Monday, December 31, 2012

Update on Tabby - 12/31/2012 Taking a Break

We went in to see the doctor today with a great deal of trepidation.  Tabby's body has taken as much abuse as a human body can, and it's starting to wear on her.  Apparently, most people can't take two full batteries of cisplaten-laced chemotherapy, and Tabby's done that and smiled through it.  But recently, her body has begun showing signs of wear.  Constant vomiting, constant fatigue, bone loss, muscle loss...  It's a fight.  A serious fight for her life.

Often, Tabby's doctor has offered to give her a break.  Every other time, Tabby's said she could handle it.  This time, however, we recognized that she needed a break.  Her body stopped recovering between chemotherapy sessions, and I wasn't sure if the cure was hurting her worse than the disease.  So this time, she said she needed the break.  The doctor agreed.  She needs to recover.

So here's the long and the short of what's happening for now:  First, no round 14.  Chemo stops now.  No more nulasta, no more cisplaten, no more beating her to death with this stuff...For now.  Tabby will go back for another CT scan in February to see if the tumors have grown or stayed the same, and we'll figure out what to do from there.

The good news is, she will have time to recover, to purge the poison from her body.  She'll rest, regain some of her strength, and maybe her appetite again.  There will be no three-to-four days of hell while nulasta makes her bones ache.  We might be able to get somewhat caught up on the mounting medical bills.  But there is a down side.  First, we don't know what stopping treatment, even for a month, will do.  It could do nothing.  It could spiral out of control.  It could do a number of things that I don't want to think about.

So here we are...About to begin the new year.  In fact, it's the last day of 2012, and we're looking forward with uncertainty.  We don't know what 2013 will bring, only that with uncertainty comes even a glimmer of hope.

Again, and again and again, thank you to everyone who has wished Tabby well, sent gifts, bought copies of DROPLETS, and kept us in your thoughts and prayers.  Every message she receives, every card, gives her strength and courage.   I'll let you know what happens in February.  Until then, please keep her and our girls in your thoughts. Make no mistake, this is stage 4-b cancer.  This literally is a fight for her life.  The odds are long and stacked against her.  But she's going to keep fighting.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2013 - Goals and 2012 - Accomplishments

Every year around this time, people start putting together a list of "resolutions" for the new year.  Not me.  Not that I don't plan on doing things in the new year, I just don't believe in resolutions.  If I'm going to make a change, I make it for good at the time I need it.  That's not to say resolutions are a bad thing, just not for me.  I had a look back at my list of things I wanted to do this year (I called them goals), and it really only boiled down to a couple of things.  I wanted to lose weight (because I felt like a fat slob) and publish more.  Everything else seemed to be an offshoot of those two things.  So since there were really only two things I wanted to accomplish this past year, let's tackle that list first.

  • Lose Weight/Get Healthier - Check, and check!  2012 marks the 2-year anniversary of my quitting smoking, and by the end of the year I've dropped 40 lbs.  You read that right.  I no longer weigh in at 240 pounds, I can now outrun most of my Kajukenbo students, and my pants fit better.  I've worked hard to get this way, and I'm planning on keeping the weight off.
  • Publish More - I don't know if this counts as "more," but I did have two books come out this year.  The first one, ECTOSTORM, was the third of the "Stanley Cooper Chronicles."  The second, DROPLETS, was bittersweet because, while it was a collection of all my short stories, the proceeds helped to fund my wife's fight against cancer.  Nice of the publisher, sad that the situation arose where I'd need such help. 

So what's on tap for next year?  Lessee....

  • More Weight Loss - I'm planning on getting down to 180 pounds.  That's twenty more pounds to go.  Yes, I can do this.  Yes, I will do this. 
  • Publish - Really, this is more up to my agent than me, so I think this should actually read "write quality things that publishers will pick up."
  • Write More - I've been a bit distracted this year, and the writing has taken a back seat.  With all the garbage going on in my personal life, it's easy to get bogged down.  And that's just what I've done.  But I'm getting back to it.  I have ideas for not one, but three books, and I'm going to try to finish two of them this year.  

I'll spare you the depressing wants for next year.  I'm sure, if you follow this blog, you can guess what they are.  What I will say is that I look forward to the new year with a considerable amount of trepidation, a bit of uncertainty, and not a small amount of dread of things that might come to pass.  But also, hope.  I have, and will continue to have hope.  I am not, by nature, an optimist.  I'm more a pessimist or (as I prefer to think of myself) a realist.  I have no illusions, but hope springs eternal.

And now, a challenge for you.  Are you up to it?  I hope so.  Over the course of the new year, make a life change.  I don't mean resolve to exercise and give it up after a month, make some real life changes.  Things that irrevocably alter your vision of the world.  Things that make you a better person.  Stuck for examples?  Glad you asked. 
  • Exercise - I don't care if it's walking around the block or running a marathon.  Take up exercise. Get healthy.  Do it now.  Don't wait until your health fails you because you failed it. 
  • Try New Foods - My wife once made this horrifyingly putrid-looking substance she called "football dip."  For the record, it's made of cream cheese blended with picante sauce.  It looked awful, but she made me try it.  I need to tell you that this stuff is like food crack.  It's addictive, bad for me, and wonderful.  Try new food.  You never know what you'll get.  
  • Get Into the World - Have a new experience.  Expand your experience.  Something you've always wanted to do?  Now.  Do it now.  Something that terrifies you that you've never done?  Try it.  You might like it.  
  • Adopt an Animal - Maybe I'm having a case of missing my dearly departed pup, Bogie, but it's a good thing to do.  Go to a shelter and adopt a dog or cat, puppy or kitten.  Adopt a creature that wouldn't have a chance to survive without you.  I can tell you, honestly, it's one of the best things I've ever done, and you'll get a friend for life. 

The last thing I have to say may fall into a "no shit, Sherlock" moment, but I'm saying it anyway.  Tell someone how much you love them.  Your wife, husband, partner, children, mom, dad... Tell them.  Even if you've said it, say it again.  You never get those moments back.  You can never say it enough.  Let them know that they're loved.  Don't let it ever be too late. 

See you in the new year. 


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stasis... An Update on Tabby - 12-05-2012

Round number twelve began yesterday with a CT scan and a gentle probing and visual exam by her doctor.  Incidentally, if you're ever diagnosed with cancer (and believe me, I hope you're not), Texas Oncology is the place to go.  They're the folks taking care of Tabby and keeping her alive.

Back to the narrative:  The CT scan came back and everything was... The same.  Stable was the word they used.  I took a look at the report and it showed all the tumors were within .01 cm of what they were last month (either give or take) or exactly the same.  So what does that mean?

I'm not sure.

On the one hand, it means she's not getting any worse.  We've managed to stop the progression of the cancer so there's that.  On the other hand, it means she's not getting any better, which points to the reason for the title of this blog entry.  Stasis.  Nothing has changed.  She is unable to move forward or back.  We are all just pulling in, trying to support one another, and trying to keep hope alive.  I choose to take this as a good thing because it means I still get to have her around. Yes, it's selfish.  Sue me.

The medication is beating the hell out of her.  The "hooded nightmare," Cisplaten, is a brutal drug that appears to be doing its job, but it's taking its toll on her.  She's constantly tired, weak and her daily bouts of nausea are becoming routine.  It's almost like morning sickness, but it happens morning, noon and night.  She's currently on more than a dozen different prescriptions, including two for the nausea (which don't appear to be working...), magnesium boosters, bone strengtheners, blood pressure medication, and a host of other things pills that equal a handful and a mountain of empty pill bottles in our kitchen.  The Nulasta is one of the worst drugs ever to be necessary.

And yet, through it all, every time the doctor asks her if she can continue, she smiles and says "yes."  Doctor Smith has given her an out multiple times, asking her if she needs a break.  Tabby's determination has never wavered.  Her spirit continues to be indomitable.

This week, in addition to everything else Tabby is going through, she had to go through the pain of losing her father.  Walter Piszczyk was a gentle giant bear of a man who once threatened to break my legs if I broke his daughter's heart.  That's the man I choose to remember.  The man who, along with her stepfather, walked Tabby down the aisle.  His passing hit her hard at a time when she was already beaten down.  And still, she does not waver.

Consider that for a moment.  Think about your worst day.  Think about having those worst days for an entire year.  Think about the strength that it takes to hold your head up and continue to fight.  That's Tabby.  That's my girl.  If you ever had a doubt, it should be gone now.

As usual, if you're wondering what you can do...  At this point, not much.  I'm so thankful for all the messages from you all.  All the visits help her outlook.  My parents, my brother and sister-in-law, my Mother-in-Law, our friends...All of you have helped more than you know.  Our children continue to help and be morale boosters.  At this time of year, money's tight, as always.  Those of you who bought Droplets, you're the reason why we're able to have a Christmas this year, so thank you.  So I guess for now, all you can do is wait, hope, and call in any favors you might have owed you by any deity in which you believe.  Light a candle and spare a thought for Tabby.  She feels it.  I feel it too.

Love to all of you.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tabby Update: 10-25-2012

I'm running out of clever pictures to put at the top of these posts...

Tabby did round 10 of chemo this week, followed by Nulasta (the evil, evil drug) on Friday, more lab work, and more hydration next week.  She's been very ill lately, with severe migraines and nausea beating her into the ground.  Last week, the migraines got the worst they'd ever been, to the point that Tab did something she didn't want to do...  She took liquid morphine.  Yes, the doctor prescribed it specifically for her headaches, but because it's so addictive, Tab was wary about taking it.  After three days of being unable to tolerate even the dimmest light, she took a dose.

No effect.

One hour later (as per the instructions), she took a second dose.  The result was the best nine hours of sleep Tabby's had in years.  She woke up without a headache, without nausea, and feeling almost like her old self again.

Tuesday, she saw the doctor, who said her kidneys are functioning perfectly, which is wonderful.  When she asked if Tabby felt strong enough for another round of chemotherapy, I half expected her to say no.  I've sat up with her many nights and heard her say that she's tired of feeling like shit and watched her cuddle Rudy (her little stuffed elephant I bought for her at the circus) and Cthulhu (big stuffed plushie from our friends Ward and Nikki), and it's obvious she's miserable.  But she said yes.  She said she was strong enough.  Later when I asked her why, she said this:  "I want this shit out of me.   I'm not quitting."

That's my girl. And that's why I love her.

Again, thanks to everyone for all your love and support.  Tabby needs to hear how loved she is.  Your messages give her strength.

As an aside, I'm sure everyone is aware of all the pink running amok in our country, as it is "Breast Cancer Awareness" month.  I have nothing against it... I'm quite fond of ta-tas in all their many shapes and sizes.  But I don't wear a pink ribbon.  I don't wear a pink gum-bracelet either.  I wear an enameled teal and white ribbon pin and bracelet.  Those are the colors of cervical cancer awareness.  I'm all for breast cancer awareness and education, but why is the month only dedicated to the one specific type?

On the campus where I work, there are many folks who mean well and who are selling pink ribbons and gum bracelets.  One of them approached me, and in her snottiest possible voice informed me that I was wearing the "wrong colors" and I needed to swap out my ribbon and bracelet for the pink ones that they were selling.  I, of course, bristled at miss Hairbow, and calmly explained to her that I didn't want to exchange them.  She asked why.  I replied "because breast cancer isn't what's trying to kill my wife."  The look on her face, though priceless, was indicative to me that, while breast cancer is terrible, people should be reminded that it's not all there is.  There are people suffering from every kind of cancer, and their voices deserve to be heard.

So here's the obligatory plug for DROPLETS, the short story collection which is helping to pay for my wife's medical expenses.  If you've bought one, thank you.  If you haven't and you want to, thanks.  And if you don't want to, don't buy it.  Thanks for just reading this far.  And for those who wish to show support for a victim of cancer of any type, head over to choose hope for ribbons, pins, and all other forms of stuff.  The good thing is, these people actually do donate enormous sums from their sales to research for finding a cure.

Again, thanks for reading.  Love you guys.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TABBY UPDATE - 10-03-2012

Yesterday, we got the results of Tabby's latest CT scan, and it showed shrinkage in almost all of the tumors!  The ones that didn't shrink were stable, so we're very happy.  Some shrank by only .1 centimeter, other shrank by a whole centimeter.  The point is, they're getting smaller.  And that's a good thing.  There is hope, and we will continue to move forward.

It's been taking her longer and longer to recover between treatments.  The Nulasta is the bane of her existence, as it is one of the most brutal drugs I've every seen.  And now, as a side effect, it seems to be leeching the calcium out of her body, which has resulted in horrific migraines and extended bouts with vomiting.  The pain, the exhaustion, the nausea, all makes it hard for her to keep chipper, but she tries.

We'd like to thank everyone who has offered assistance.  Our insurance is holding and helping.  The co-payments and our end of the treatments are expensive, and they are slowly building, but at this time, everything is manageable.  I need to send thank-you's to my parents, who have been helping on chemo days by keeping Zoe and sending dinner home; to my daughter Anna for driving when I can't; to Ruth (Tabby's mom) who comes down whenever Tabby needs her; to my brother and his family for their assistance whenever we ask; and to all of our friends for understanding why we haven't seen them for so long.  To everyone who has bought a copy of DROPLETS, you have no idea the difference you've made in helping pay our medical bills.  And to everyone else who has sent love, care packages, good thoughts and vibes, sent e-mails or called, thank you very much.  You are helping to keep our spirits alive and you are as much a part of the healing and recovery process as the chemotherapy.

We love you guys very much.


If anyone would like to purchase a copy of DROPLETS, it is still available.  Also, for those wishing to show support for ANY cancer victim, you can do so at Choose Hope.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Big Thank You, And an Update!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who has read these blogs and who bought a copy of Droplets to help pay for Tabby's medical costs.  While we're not out of the woods yet, and we have a long way to go, your support and love and help have meant so much to us both.  I can't possibly name everyone who has given their time, bought a book, lit a candle, prayed or sent gifts, but you know who you are.  You know what you did, and for that, I thank you from the bottom of my black little heart.

Now, on with the update.

First off, Tabby's last CT scan showed shrinkage.  This'll probably be the only time I ever say "shrinkage is a good thing," but in this case it is.  What that means, I hope, is that we're over the hump.  Since April, we've been told "no change" and "no growth," but it hadn't gotten smaller either.  Now, the tumors have shrunk.  Not much, but enough that there is a glimmer of hope.

Tabby has, as a result of all this mess, developed diabetes.  Likely, it'll resolve itself when her pancreas starts working on its own again, but we don't know that.  Also, because her white bloodcell count was very low, the doctors put her on something called "Nulasta," which forces her body to overproduce white blood cells.  Sounds good, until you realize how your body does such a thing.  White blood cells come from bone marrow, which means that, when she's injected with this stuff, every bone in her body aches.  Literally.  Every.  Bone.  She's a tough lady, but it's hard to know she's in that kind of pain.

The chemo makes her very tired, but she's keeping her spirits up.  It's that positive attitude that is a testament to her strength, and is helping her fight.  And one of the big things that's keeping her spirits up is you.

So to everyone who reads this, thank you.

Just a reminder, if anyone is still interested in buying a copy of Droplets (all proceeds go to paying Tab's medical bills), you can do so by visiting The American Horror Writer Bookstore.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Out of Print

It's a sad day in a writer's life when a book goes out of print.  No longer is that book part of the market, no longer is it "in the wild" or "out there."  It has lived its life and is now, sadly, gone.  This past week, I saw not one, but four of my books go out of print.  That's right, four.  The books in question are Deadlands, City of Demons, and the first two books of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles, Vermin and Pages.  Has it really been that long?  Yes.  Really, it has.

Deadlands first saw print in 2005.  It was my second book, way back before the whole "zombie" craze, about a post-apocalyptic world where the walking dead wondered the Earth, and normal folk were forced to live in underground cities like ants.  When the original publisher, Harbor House Books, closed up shop, the book was given new life by Dr. Pus at Library of the Living Dead, and I'll be forever grateful to him for picking it up.  It's a quirky little book that holds a special place in my heart.

City of Demons was my first attempt at noir.  A supernatural thriller that dealt with police, religious cults, murder, mayhem, and depravity, COD was my love-letter to Micky Spillane and Dashiell Hammett, and to the tough guys they wrote.  It was also, at the time, the most brutal story I'd ever written.

Which leads us to Vermin and Pages.  Before you start thinking The Stanley Cooper Chronicles are done, let me dispel that rumor.  Stanley Cooper is alive and well, and his story is far from over.  Right now, Vermin and Pages rest in the most capable hands possible:  Those belonging to my agent.  We're looking for a larger home for Stanley.  And while Ectostorm is still available, I'm working hard on writing the fourth book, Birthright.  In fact, I could be happy writing the adventures of Stanley Cooper for the rest of my life, provided he finds a home.  So if you want to see more Stanley Cooper, keep your fingers crossed.  Larger press or not, there will be more to his story.  But I'd really love for him to find a larger audience.

So, to date, that makes my back catalogue of thirteen books down to only five.  Out of print is An American Haunting, Deadlands, Cane River:  A Ghost Story, Deadlands (reprint), City of Demons, The Mayor's Guide:  The Stately Ghosts of Augusta, and Vermin and Pages.  Remaining out there for folks to read are Ectostorm, Ghosts of San Antonio, Haunted Austin Texas, The Journal of Edwin Grey, and, of course, Droplets.  Sure, you can still find copies of all of them, but once those are gone, there'll be no more left.  I may self-pub Deadlands and  City of Demons, but chances are, that'll be it.

That's not the end for my writing career, though.  There's more coming.  Just watch me run.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Benefit for Tabby

Take a look at the picture on the left.  For those who have never met her, that's Tabby, my wife.  We've been married for nineteen years, and through everything, she's been my best friend, my partner in crime, and my world.

By now, everyone knows.  We kept it quiet for a while, but there's really no point now.  Tabby was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer back in April, and it's particularly aggressive.  Since April, she's been enduring chemotherapy, losing weight and her hair, and fighting with everything she's got.  Tabby has made a life out of beating the odds, and she's still fighting these.  She's very weak and can't actually work.  As her husband, I've been sitting beside her, watching her go through this horrendous nightmare, and wracking my brain to try to figure out what I can do to help.

 I figured that the only thing I can do is write, and since I'm not the type to beg for help, I spoke to Owen, the publisher who put out my short story collection, Droplets, and he agreed to donate all the proceeds from DROPLETS to help pay for Tabby's medical care.  This is huge, not only because I feel like I'm helping, but also because it keeps Tabby from feeling like a charity case.  Your "donation" gets you a copy of the book.  The truth is, the medical bills are piling up, so we figured this is the best solution.

Buy a copy of DROPLETS.  That's it.  One copy.  Owen at CLB Publications has agreed to take no profit from the book, and forward it all for paying Tabby's medical bills.  Pretty generous.  If you're inclined to help out, we'd be forever grateful.  If you already own a copy, Owen will be forwarding the proceeds of that one to me as well.  If you already own one, write a review on Amazon.  Reviews sell books.  Like I said, we're not asking for handouts.  If you want to buy a copy, please do by following this link.  If you don't, we understand.  Either way, keep Tabby in your thoughts.

We can't handle a bunch of phone calls, but e-mails are always appreciated.  Facebook messages are always appreciated for her.  Post your well-wishings on her wall.  I can't promise we'll be able to answer all of them, but I promise she'll read them all.  Tabby means everything in the world to me.  If you've met her, you know what I mean.  Everyone who has ever met her loves her.  If you haven't met her, and have met me, you know what she means to me.   Thank you for your consideration.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Retreat! RETREAT!!!

Writing is, as I've said before, largely a solitary process.  At the end of the day, it is the writer, alone, in front of his keyboard, typing until his fingers cramp and eyes bleed.  Those who are not like us don't understand, can never understand, why it is that we shun the light or the company of our fellow humans.  But (and believe me, I am loathe to admit this), we do occasionally need human contact.  We do need the validation and camaraderie that comes with being amongst those of our kind, to step out of the "normal world" and into the crossfire of absurdity that only occurs when a room full of creative people are together with the goal of pushing each other to greatness.  And thus was born the concept of the "writer's retreat."

This past week, it was my honor to teach at Seton Hill University as an adjunct professor in their MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program.  I've been doing it for a while, and I always enjoy it, but this time was one of those times I particularly enjoyed because every June, the alumni of the program come together for the In Your Write Mind retreat.  Guest speakers in the industry, pitch sessions, workshops, all that is fine and dandy, and what the retreat is about.  But there is another thing that cannot be overstated in importance:  The participants themselves.  I admit, I'm a bit biased because many of the writers at the retreat are former students of mine, and I consider them no longer students, but colleagues and dear friends.  But the very presence, the interaction, is something all writers need.  In a way, it's validation.  We learn from each other, feed off each others' creative vibe, pick each others' brains, toss around ideas and recharge ourselves from the year's burnout of going through the daily grind.  It's one part support system, one part dysfunctional family.

I go to writing workshops all the time, and I have yet to find one that is as tight-knit as the In Your Write Mind retreat.

And while we're on the subject, I'd like to mention the root of the retreat, the WPF program itself.  You want to be a writer?  You want to write horror, or sci-fi, or romance, or YA, or any of a dozen other "genres" at which the literary community scoff?  Did you think you'd never get an MFA because your tastes run darker than those of the bearded academics who feel that authors like Barker and Lovecraft have no place in the learned world?  Guess what.  Seton Hill has the WPF program that awards an MFA on graduates, and there are two notable differences between this program and every other MFA that I've seen.  First off, students are not handed theory by people who have degrees but have never published, or who have published, but only in an academic or literary environment.  The teachers in the Seton Hill program are WORKING WRITERS.  I should know.  I am one.  Students are taught how to build a novel from the ground up in the genre of their choice by people who actually do that.  They're also paired with one of these writers so as to get real mentoring from one of them.  Go back and read that line again.  Do you realize what a wonderful opportunity that is?  Go look if you don't believe me.  Second, the goal of the program, the "thesis" if you will, is to complete a market-ready manuscript.  To date, five of my former "mentees" have sold their theses to publishers.  And I can't even count the number of novels that come from the program.

So here's my challenge to you:  If you want to be a writer, write your little shriveled heart out all year long, but make time to be around your fellow crazies.  Step into that crossfire of absurdity once in a while where the ideas fly and people actually want you to succeed.  You never know who you will meet.  This past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Knost, whose book Writers Workshop of Horror I frequently assign to students.  The man is a bundle of laughs and good will.  I met agents, publishers, and, most importantly, other authors.  I met up with my old friends and we laugh about what a hardass I was to them.  It was a week needed, and I feel reborn.

If you don't believe in magic, go to a writers retreat and watch the sparks fly.  Watch the creative muse dance around our heads, and see the creations that come out of our collaborations.  Watch what happens when a group of writers get into a single room together and are left to their own devices.  And you will believe in magic.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

We lost one of the great luminaries of our time, a man whose prolific works and blinding imagination provided with my generation, as well as many others, with visions of Mars, dystopian futures, demented carnivals and Halloween trees.  He took us to space and beyond, showed us the strange and macabre here on earth, and delved into the mysterious and weird with devilish glee.  His name was Ray Bradbury.

If you've never read Ray Bradbury's work, you can officially consider yourself ignorant.  Whether it was Fahrenheit 451 in high school, or Something Wicked This Way Comes as a child, his work introduced me to wonderful worlds and fantastic characters that stick with me to this day.

I don't believe I'm overstating his worth when I say we would not be where we are, as a society, without this man's imagination.  He gave us our vision of Martians.  He warned us of the dangers of book-burning and censorship.  He gave us stories in which tattoos told stories and made us fear the sound of thunder and wish for an ice-cream suit.  If you've ever been afraid to be taken to into Dark's Carnival, or watched the Twillight Zone, or wished for an electric grandmother, you've been touched by Ray's genius.

I first encountered Ray's work with the movie adaptation of his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes (Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce 1983) when I was twelve years old.  I was fascinated and terrified by Mr. Dark and his nefarious circus, but when I came home, my brother suggested I try reading the book.  At the time, I wasn't much of a reader, but I sat down in a comfy chair and read it.  Cover to cover.  His writing style spoke to me, his characters stood in the same room, behind the chair and loomed over my tiny body, and I felt the little giggle of nervous fear bubble inside of me with every word.  After that, I sought out his work at our pitiful local library and read The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles.  Anything with his name attached to it, I read, saw, watched, and absorbed.  The man was a literary giant to me.  Still is, and will be for the rest of my life.

For those who have not read much of his work, there is a lot of it to read.  Do yourself a favor and dive into his catalogue of work.  You won't be disappointed.

Good night sir.  May flights of Martians fly you into the stars to your rest.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Human Condition

Those of you who know me know, by now, that my wife has cancer.  No, this isn't a cry for help or anything... Stick with me because this does have a point, I swear.

A few weeks ago, Tabby lost her hair to chemotherapy.  We knew it was going to happen, and Tabby's got a marvelous attitude about the whole thing.  But we weren't quite ready for how fast it would happen. One day, she had a full head of hair.  Two days later, it was all gone.  Skin bald.  I did what many other husbands have done in similar situations:  I shaved my head.  Anyone who knows me knows how much I like having long hair...I'm a little obsessive about it.  But there was no way I was going to let my Tabby go through being bald on her own, so off the hair went.  She means that much to me.

Yesterday, we went to the grocery store.  Tabby scooted along in front of me in a little electric cart (GET OUT OF THE WAY!  SHE'S CRAZY!  SHE'LL RUN OVER YOU!  I SWEAR!) while I pushed the main shopping cart behind.  As we moved down the aisle, I heard someone call me from behind.  "Sir?"  I turned around to see a man, a complete stranger, with huge tears in his eyes.  He took my hand and shook it and said "You've gotta be strong, brother."  Then he hugged me.  It took me a moment to figure out how he knew, but it was the hair, or lack thereof.  I don't know why the sight of the two of us made him cry.  I don't know what happened in that man's life, but I can tell you this much:  He made me feel loved.  He made me feel a little less alone.  He let me know that he knew something of what I was going through, and that made all the difference.

Here's the point:  That man embodied, to me, in that moment, the very best of what humankind can be.  He saw two people struggling and empathized with them.  Nothing mattered, but to give me a hug and to let me know that he'd been where I am, to offer encouragement, and to make that positive connection.  That man made me proud to be human, and with all the atrocities we visit upon each other, that's saying quite a lot.

I still don't know who that man was.  I don't know if I'll ever see him again (it's possible...That's my neighborhood grocery store, and odds are good he lives in the area).  But I can tell you this...That one random act of kindness, that one momentary connection, made a real impression on me.  I'm not suggesting everyone run out and hug a bald kid/person, but what I am saying is this:  We all have similar conditions.  We all have feelings, and we all want to feel connected to the rest of our species.  And while people like me neither want nor need your sympathy, everyone needs your empathy.

To that man, thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  You made a real difference with such a simple act.  To me, sir, you are the best of humanity.

Friday, May 4, 2012

ECTOSTORM: Book Three of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles

It's out!  It's finally out!  ECTOSTORM:  Book Three of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles is finally available on Amazon!  For those of you who are fans of my reluctant clairvoyant, Stanley Cooper has returned in the third installment, and is he in for a ride this time.

ECTOSTORM begins with Stanley discovering a group of people who, like himself, suffered near-death experiences and returned to tell the tale.  After a meeting with them, and a renewed sense that he might not be the weirdest guy on the planet, Stanley goes back to Maggie and Andi.  The next morning, the police are at his door.  Someone from the group has been murdered, and the killer wrote Stanley's name on the wall in blood.  The killer also wrote a message that only Stanley could see, and signed it with an evergreen.  It's up to Stanley to find out who the killer is, what he wants, and to stop him before more people get killed.

This book is also very special to me because it was sponsored by you, the fans.  I put up a project on KICKSTARTER to see if anyone was even interested in the further adventures of Stanley Cooper.  To my delight and surprise, people were interested.  This book was funded by a group of supporters from Kickstarter, and their names appear at the front of the book in a special thanks section.  Now that it's out, those people (the ones that donated at a particular level) will get a signed copy of the book, and a couple even got characters named after themselves.  Those characters died horribly.  It's just my way of saying thanks.

So anyway, ECTOSTORM is out.  If you're interested, you can pick up a copy at the AmericanHorrorWriter Bookstore.  And while you're there, you could also pick up a copy of my brand new short story collection, Droplets. Hell, if you go to the main page, you can pick up copies of all my books!

Thanks very much to all of you for supporting me and my work.  And thank you for reading.  There's more to come!

Monday, April 2, 2012

DROPLETS: A Short Story Collection

It is with great pleasure and pride that I announce the release of DROPLETS:  A Short Story Collection!  In this book are twenty-three short stories that span the length of my writing career.  From my first published pieces (Chained to the Pel, The Drowning Pool, and Mimes) to short stories never before seen in print, this collection documents my growth as a writer and shows the weird prism through which I view the world.  

If you'd like a preview, you can download the free sneak-peek, the short story MIMES, in which a guy beats up a mime in Central Park with terrifying results. 

And I haven't forgotten about Kindle users.  DROPLETS will be available on Kindle as soon as they finish checking the format.  

Here's the Table of Contents:
  • Chained to the Pel
  • Childhood Fears
  • Closet Boy
  • Death Around the Corner
  • The Dinner Party
  • The Drowning Pool
  • Duwalli?
  • Epaphany
  • Family Business
  • The Freakshow
  • The Girl Next Door
  • Heaven on Earth
  • Jock Itch
  • Mimes
  • monotony
  • Of Moss and Bullfrogs
  • one Night in New Orleans
  • Ouija
  • Rakshasa
  • Rats
  • Snapshot
  • Stalker
  • The Wrong House

Friday, March 9, 2012

Just Have to Brag...

...And not about myself, for once!  I know, right?

It's no secret, I teach in a low-residency MFA program at Seton Hill University.  In addition to teaching "modules" (that's classes to most folk), we faculty are assigned a few students each semester to "Mentor" through their thesis, which, in theory, becomes a market-worthy manuscript.  Typically, I have between five and seven "mentees."  What does this have to do with anything?  Because two of my former mentees, Kristin Dearborn and David Day, have sold their manuscripts!

David's book, Tearstone, is a fantastic horror yarn that got picked up by Balefire Press.  You want messed up?  David's got you covered.  It's a story about an ancient artifact which, when unearthed, causes a sleepy little town to go completely mad.  Think "Our Town" on meth.  That oughta bring up some interesting images.  Brutal murder, rape, devils, monsters... It's a cornucopia of horror!

Kristin's book, Trinity, will be coming from Dark Fuse Press.  It's a fantastic story that includes aliens, government conspiracies, death, mayhem, and...  Wait for it...  A space puma.  Actually, I don't know if the Space Puma made it in to the final draft, but it was there when I read it.  What I can tell you about this story is that the imagery is remarkable, the characters are strong, and it has a wonderful grungy feel to it that will make any sci-fi fan sit up and take notice.

So why am I throwing this out there?  Because I'm proud.  And let me be perfectly clear, I take no credit for anything having to do with their success or their work.  All the work they did, they did on their own and they are succeeding because they're both brilliant writers.  No, I'm bragging because I'm proud to have worked with them.  I consider both of them no longer "mentees," or even students.  If I had to categorize them as anything it would be, at worst, colleagues, at best, friends.  I love both of these folks dearly, and I can't wait to see the hard copies.  I remember when my first novel got published, how proud I was.  It's a feeling that never gets old.  May these two writers have many more moments of success through their careers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


As I've said in the past, I have no shame.  I started writing in 2001, and that same year I got my first pro publication.  It was a short story called MIMES, and it was published in The Rectangle, which is the literary journal of the International English Honor Society.  The funny thing?  It was only the second time I'd ever even attempted to write a story.  I'll explain.

I needed a college credit, and the only class I could find that sounded remotely interesting, and that fit my schedule, was a writing workshop class.  I didn't want to be a writer at that point, I just wanted the college credit.  So I enrolled, did my best, and the first story I wrote was about a guy who woke up in the middle of the night to find out his family had been butchered.  I turned my story in, confident that it was crap.  The next class period, no one wanted to sit next to me.  I wish I were joking. I liked the reaction, so I wrote a second story, which became MIMES.  My classmates compared me to Rod Sterling, which made my little nerdy heart tingle.  I submitted it to the journal as a goof, thinking there was no way my off-the-wall mime story would ever get picked.  But it did.  And I've been writing ever since.

Why do I bring it up?  Because, while going through my backup files, I found a copy of it, and I thought I'd share.  It's imperfect, and I've grown a lot as a writer since I wrote it, but I stand by it.  I'm proud of it, and figured I'd throw it out there for the world to read, again or for the first time.   So here it is, in the "downloads" section of my website, in PDF format.  Enjoy.

As an added bonus, and I can't believe I'm doing this, here's another little treat.  After it was published, the film club at my college adapted it to a short movie, which won the "Golden Crackpipe Award" (I wish I could make that up) at the Flea Market Film Festival.  Below, embedded, is that short movie.  Enjoy the bad acting and weirdness.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


What you see above is the final front cover for my newest novel, ECTOSTORM:  Book Three of the Stanley Cooper Chronicles, put out by Twisted Library Press (Formerly Library of the Living Dead).  The cover was done by the same insanely talented fellow who did the covers for VERMIN and PAGES, Romik Safarian.  I'd provide a link, but there's nothing on his website right now, and that's a damned shame because he's my go-to guy for all cover art.  

In this chapter of Stanley Cooper's life, he meets a group of people who, like himself, died and came back.  But, because life can never be warm and fluffy, someone starts killing the members of that group. A bloody message on the wall leads Stanley to believe that the killer is none other than the betrayer of Evergreen, who wants him to surrender for purposes unknown.  On the other side of the coin, demons want to kill Stanley to keep him from surrendering to the traitor.  Either way, Stanley seems hosed.  

ECTOSTORM is a very special book because it was funded by fans through Kickstarter.  

When ECTOSTORM becomes available, you'd better believe I'll post a link and maybe even run a contest for a few free copies!  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"I've always wanted to..."

A man walked up to a concert pianist one day and, after listening to him play for an hour, said to him "I'd give my life to play like that."  The pianist smiled and said simply "I did."

So often, we writers are faced with people who say "I've always wanted to write a book."  And to them I ask "What's stopping you?"  A long list of excuses pop up ranging from time to money to kids to every other damned thing under the sun.  To which I reply "Well, then, you really haven't always wanted to, have you?  Because if you did, if it was really something you were passionate about doing, you'd do it despite the hardships."  Okay, maybe that makes me come off as an asshole, but I'll deal with that.  It's a valid question, and one that you need to ask yourself every day.  There's something you want to do, something you've always wanted to do.  So do it.  Get off your ass and do it.  Oh, sure, it's simplistic advice, but in truth, there's none other to give on the subject.  Let me explain.

If I were to say "I couldn't write a novel because I have two kids, three jobs, a wife, two car payments and bills to pay," I would never get another thing written.  Ever.  Because that's my mindset.  All the responsibility of the world heaped on my shoulders, and no time to do what I want to do.  But that's not what I did.  Without dropping a single piece of that list of crap (I still have multiple jobs, two kids, etc...) I still managed to find time to write a dozen novels, and have no intention of stopping.  How?  Glad you asked.

For me, writing is a priority.  It's not something I do for the hell of it.  Believe me, there are much more brain-numbing things that a person could do after work.  But because it's important to me, because it's something I truly have always wanted to do, I make time to do it.  Notice, I didn't say "find time."  I said "make time."

It applies to pretty much anything in your life.  Take a look at the things you want to do and ask yourself what's stopping you.  Is it time?  Family?  Money?  In my mind, the last one is the only one that presents any type of real obstacle, and even that can be overcome by shifting priorities.

I suppose the point of this whole entry is this:  If there's something you want to do, do it.  You can teach yourself to play piano, learn to ride a motorcycle, and, yes, even write a novel.  Those things that you are passionate about, follow.  Your friends and family will understand.  And so what if they don't?  It's your passion.  Follow it.  No one's saying it's easy.  Hell, making time to write novels and teach and work and raise children and be a family guy and teach karate and...and...and... *deep breath*  It's exhausting.  But it's also rewarding.  I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing.  As frustrating as this business is, I can't imagine myself doing anything else.

Jump in with both feet.  Feel the water go over your head, and revel in it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Here, There Be Monsters...

The Seton Hill "Readings in the Genre" course has begun, lead by your's truly. Our subject this time around?  Monsters.  They hold a dear place in my heart because, really, aren't we all monsters of a sort?  More on that in a minute.

I've chosen a motley crew of misanthropic mayhem masters about whom my students must read.  Included are Vampires (that don't sparkle, dammit), werewolves, golems, demons and... well... snow.  Trust me, it all works somehow.  But I think the question that begs answer is this:  Why are we so fascinated by monsters?  Lets look at the famous monsters of literature (I'm not talking movies...Most of those are one-dimensional sacks of fetid dingo's kidneys) and see what makes them so special.

Adam (the creation from Frankenstein... yes, his name was Adam) fascinated us with his simplicity, his desire to be loved.  Child-like, he was dragged into this world and before he could even begin to question his existence, he was rejected by his creator.  Anyone who's ever watched children on the playground knows how children act:  As Adam himself stated, "If I couldn't inspire love, I would then cause fear."  How many children react to rejection with more rejection?  Most of them.  Adam is, for all intents and purposes, a child in the body of a man, lacking the maturity that comes with age, but possessing all the tools to destroy his enemies.

Dracula, on the other hand, possesses the wisdom of immortality.  Say what you will, but Dracula is not a horror story.  It's a romance.  A tragic romance, to be certain, but a romance nonetheless.  It is, for all intents and purposes, the story that asks the reader how far he or she would go for love?  Cross an ocean?  A continent?  Reject God?  The titular character is, from his point of view, justified.  Granted, he's been driven mad by the rigors of immortality and having to feed on the life forces of others to survive, but in his mind, all he wants is the girl he lost to an uncaring God.

Look at Quasimodo from Hunchback of Notre Dame or Eric from The Phantom of the Opera and you'll see miserably misshapen men brought to their demises by the search for love and the madness that comes with it.  But the last two aren't "monsters," are they?  Not really, but they became monsters.  Much like we do.

Monsters, historically, take one of our darkest desires, one of our emotions, one of our flaws, and amplify it (or them) to ridiculous degrees until the creature in question becomes the stuff of nightmares.  So if that is true (and it is), then why are we so fascinated with monsters?

Because they are us.  They are our fear.  They are our passions.  They are our souls, twisted almost beyond recognition and then shown to us.  They are what happens when we forget our humanity.  They are what happens when we lack the wisdom to walk away.  Monsters are designed to teach us lessons about ourselves.  You'll notice, I never called Adam a monster.  Because he wasn't.  His creator, Victor, blinded by ambition and selfish pride, was the monster.   Yet it was Adam with whom we identified.  Because we've all been that creature.  We've all felt betrayed, thrown out by those who should, but don't, care.

They are us.  We are them.  When you read about monsters, think hard about them.  Sympathize with them.  Because they are our brothers and sisters.

Monday, January 2, 2012

And So it Begins... Again...

A while ago (around 2010), I went on a drastic program and lost a significant amount of weight.  In all honesty, I dropped about fifty pounds and went from weighing around 225 to around 180 in about six months.  It was a difficult process, but one I enjoyed and one that came with more benefits than just my pants fitting better.  The next year, I decided to make a drastic lifestyle change and quit smoking.  That's right.  Since May of 2011, I've not had a cigarette.  But there was a problem.  As do many people trying to kick the habit, I put on some weight.  In fact, I put on all the weight I'd lost, plus a few more.  At the moment of this writing, I weigh now more than I ever have, 236 pounds.  And it feels awful.  A drastic weight gain like that does a lot of horrible things to a person's body, not the least of which is joint and back pain, limited endurance, and the overall feeling that it shouldn't be so damned difficult to bend over to tie one's shoes in the morning.

So here we are, 2012, and I, like so many others, are headed to the gym to try to live a healthier lifestyle.  While most of them will give up after a few weeks, I won't.  I've lost the weight before, and I can do it again.  How?  Incentives.  First off, I feel like I've let the entire Kajukenbo Ohana down by becoming such a fat slob.  I've dedicated more than twenty years of my life to the study of martial arts, and I'm not going to be that guy anymore.  Second, I want to be around to see my grandkids (not any time soon, please), and it seems like being healthier is a good way to do that.  Third, Tabby said that if I meet my weight loss goal, I can order a new kilt.  That alone will do it for me.

So what challenges are there?  Well, the biggest one is the most obvious:  I love to eat.  Italian, Chinese, Greek, Mexican, you name it, I love to eat it.  I'm a food junkie.  I love potatoes and gravy, steak and beer, creamy alfredo sauces...  It's tough quit eating the things a person loves, so I'm going to attempt to make the above things, but in a light (but still flavorful) way.  Yes, I can cook.   Second, my jobs are such that I spend an enormous amount of time on my butt looking at a computer screen.  That's why the gym is across campus and I'm going to walk to it instead of driving or riding to it.  Third, time is an issue.  My boss, however, was kind enough to allow me extra time on my lunch hour to do my training.

So here's what's going to happen:  Starting now (as in Sunday, January 1, 2012), I'm on a low-fat, low sodium diet.  Tabby's on the same diet for medical reasons, so it should be good.   Today (Monday, January 2, 2012) I went to renew my gym membership.  Thursday through next week, I'll be in Pittsburgh.  Starting Monday, January 16 2012, I'm going to be in the gym five days a week.  My weight loss goal is simple:  By the residency in June, I'll weigh no more than 180 lbs.  That means I have to lose 57 pounds in 6.5 months.  Can I do it?  You betcha.  I'm also going to be taking photos of myself once a week to track my progress.  Don't worry...I'm not posting them here.  I won't torture you that way.  But when I've lost the weight, I'm going to compile them into a time-lapse thing so I can see my progress.  I may post that.  I may not.  I'll also be posting any good recipes I find for low-fat, healthy food.  We'll start with this one:

Scott's Low-Fat Beef Stroganoff

  • 1 bag whole-grain noodles (I prefer spirals or twists)
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 large container fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium container of LITE sour cream
  • 2 tblspns low-fat, low salt margarine
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 package of low salt, low fat beef stock
  • lean meat.  (I prefer a London Broil because it's cut lean)
  1. dice your onion and put it in a pan with margarine at medium heat and cook until clear.  
  2. slice the mushrooms and throw them into the pan too.  Cook the mixture for about ten to fifteen minutes or until the mushrooms are tender and no longer feel like styrofoam. 
  3. Pour in your wine and stir in well.  Let the mixture simmer and reduce.  
  4. Pour in the beef stock and stir in.  Bring to a boil and let it reduce for about ten minutes or more, depending on taste. 
  5. Boil your noodles.
  6. Mix in the sour cream.  NOTE:  There's a trick to it.  Put the sour cream in a mug (like a coffee mug) and gradually raise the temperature by spooning in some of the hot broth and mixing in the coffee cup.  When you have the sour cream mixture at close to the correct  temperature, then mix it in.  Otherwise, you'll curdle the sour cream.  
  7. Heat to boiling and let it reduce. 
  8. Set your oven to "broil" and let heat for five minutes. 
  9. Rub the London Broil with your favorite low-sodium steak dust, and let it sit for a few minutes.
  10. Cook your London Broil.  CAUTION: It cooks very quickly.  Seven minutes, then turn it over, and it could very well be done.  Remember, red meat is supposed to be pink in the middle, not grey. 
Beef Stroganoff is meant to look as good as it tastes.  Suggested serving is as follows:  On a plate, lay out a bed of noodles.  Then slice between four and six (THIN) slices of your London Broil.  Using a small ladle, put your sauce over the meat.  It should not run all over the plate.  If it does, you've used too much.  However, a gravy-boat filled with sauce might be appreciated by your guests.  Top with a sprig of fresh parsley or some chives, and serve with steamed broccoli.

That's it.  That's my recipe.  Hope you like it!  And here's the cool thing:  If you used low-fat sour cream and lean meat, this is actually a healthy meal. 

Oh, and happy new year.