Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Midnight on the Firing Line

There was a frightening undercurrent in the crowd that gathered around the red cardboard display boxes in the back aisle of Lynn Haven's Walmart Super Center just before midnight on Thursday. It was minutes before Black Friday, and the tension was high.

The only thing I can compare it to is a school of piranha circling chum.

The display boxes held DVDs and Blu-Rays behind a thin plastic wrap. A woman in a blue best said she would cut the plastic and remove it at midnight, at which time the always-growing crowd could then take their picks of the videos. I looked around, and it was clear the crowd had other ideas.

People literally circled the line of red displays, noting the titles they desired. They glanced at the others in the crowd, weighing their chances in a fight.

This is what Christmas is all about, I thought: Togetherness.

One of the women in blue vests walked up and down the row, telling people to clear the main aisle. Crowds backed up on each other in side aisles. A few tightened their shoe laces.

About 11:58 p.m., we heard shouts and mob noise coming from the other end of the electronics department, where someone had opened a box of video games. Then a woman in a blue vest popped a box cutter and started to touch the plastic wrap on the displays — and that was all it took.

The crowd rushed into the aisle, shoving hands through the plastic wrap to snatch videos. People reached around each other like TSA agents at a pat down, groping blindly for hidden treasures they couldn't even name. Everywhere were exclamations of "Excuse me!" "Sorry!" "My bad!" "Pardon!" "Excuse me again!" as people reeled through and against one another to seek out season sets or special editions or heavily marked down titles.

Ah, the gentle sounds of the season!

Arms loaded, I sought the shopping cart I had parked on a side aisle, but it was gone. Instead, I found my daughter having escaped alive from the other end of the electronics department with some things she wanted for Christmas in a cart. I dumped my loot in there and guarded the cart while she dove into the crowd I had just left behind.

No injuries were reported.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving thanks for the simple things in life

Thanksgiving Day is coming up later this week, as you might have heard, and it’s a tradition at our house to share some of the things we’re thankful for each year. Some years are better than others, of course, and some lists are more extensive.

Beyond the obvious (such as continued decent health and a healthy family), here are a few things I am thankful for:

- Not being a turkey this week. (Go ahead, insert your jokes here.)

- A wife and kids who balance the challenges of keeping me grounded while encouraging my flights of fancy.

- Twitter and Facebook friends, without whose virtual validation I would wander around and talk to myself about random things even more so than I do now. (By the way, #FF for @ing me this week: @ShellieT, @karenzach, @RealRiverJordan, @ BradMilner, @SBradyCalhoun, @lou1492, @bradmeltzer, @wdglover, @JaysonKretzer, @mikecaz.)

- Real-world friends with a sense of humor and imagination, who don’t seem bothered by my non sequiturs or Chinese curses.

>>(See the rest of the list here.)<<

The Best of Deals:
Get special pricing on 'The Best of Days' through Dec. 15 — use the coupon code STOCKING305 at checkout.


Follow Tony on Twitter @ midnightonars

Monday, November 15, 2010

Connecting across time and space

(The following was my Sunday 'Undercurrents' column for The News Herald.)
Surrounded and bolstered by kindred spirits on Thursday night, Wewahitchka-based author Michael Lister talked about the sacred calling of the storyteller. He used the word “shaman” to convey the mystical connection between the teller and the listener.

Like an alchemical equation seeking balance, the work birthed in the act of creating art can’t reach maturity until the work is interpreted. Otherwise creation is the silence in the forest when a tree falls and no one is there to hear it.

It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

Michael’s words, as usual, started me thinking. In particular, I recalled a few events of the past week where the things people said (or wrote) and the things I heard (or read) connected with memory to create new meaning. You never know what people will say, or how the things they say will stick with you and bubble to the surface of your thoughts.

A couple of examples:

I visited the set of “A Doll’s House” on the Amelia Center Theater stage at Gulf Coast Community College this week. Decorated for Christmas, the lights and baubles stood in stark contrast to the dull walls and furnishings in shades of brown. It looked like a scene out of “A Christmas Story.”

The play is set in 1950s Chicago, and the short sequence I viewed made me think about those folks on our Squall Line who want their country back — one of whom even went so far this week to type on his or her computer that “The 1950s was a better time.”

On stage, the husband teased his wife with $10 bills that she greedily snatched from him, one by one, and promised to spend wisely. He called her pet names and spoke in soothing tones, making sure she understood her place and function in his world.

I was reminded of an early Saturday morning recently, when an older man joked about spending his entire “allowance” on yard sales. He circled among some tables stacked with colorful trinkets and clothing, asking silly questions and flirting with the ladies at the sale. Suddenly, he grew quiet.

“I was married three times,” this total stranger said to me, his breath misting in the morning cold. “I left the first one, the second one left me, and the third died. She was the only one who ever said she loved me. She was the only one I ever loved.”

He cleared a lump in his throat and pointed at a coffee maker designed for one person. “Is that real or a toy?” he said, and I told him I believed that it was real. He bought it and drove away alone.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Body and the Blood

My friend Michael Lister had a book launch party this evening at the lovely home of John Robert and Kaye Middlemas. I stopped by to support him and see some friends I don't get to see often enough, and it produced wonderful and heart-touching moments.

Michael was gracious and shared the spotlight by thanking me for my support for the arts and for his efforts over the years, and many people came up to thank me for the story and column I wrote about Barbara Clemons' passing recently.

But this was Michael's night, and well deserved. He was introduced by John Robert and by Bettina Mead, and he spoke about his calling as an artist and author, and he read from his new novel (the review for which you can find here.) Congrats, my friend, and keep up the good work.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

VIDEO: A Doll's House

Check it out: I spent part of Tuesday evening with the cast and crew of Gulf Coast Community College's new stage production, "A Doll's House." Here is a behind-the-scenes video I shot:

I plan to attend the Saturday night show. Maybe I'll see you there?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

SCORE! (Story accepted for anthology)

Just got a contract in the e-mail. A story has been accepted for a horror anthology to be published early 2011. Details to follow when I can say more. (No, this is not the Big Time. It'll only pay for a couple of Coram's burger specials. But it's still a Good Thing and Makes Me Happy.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

To plot and to plod: Writers, zombies share an obsession

(The following was my Sunday column for The News Herald. See photos and video here.)

PANAMA CITY — I was down among my people last weekend: the evil and the good, the destroyers and the creators, the dead walkers and the live writers. The zombies had assured the public that they would not bite; the authors made no such promises.

The morning of Oct. 29, the Bay County Public Library launched its inaugural Local Books Alive with presentations from several full-time authors who make this area their home. The meeting room was packed; I counted 63 folks during the time I was able to attend.

By that afternoon, the inaugural Panama City Zombie Walk participants were packed together in a similar fashion but dripping with considerably more corn syrup and food coloring than the writers had been. I’d estimate more than a hundred walkers shambled from the Marina Civic Center northward on Harrison Avenue as the sun sank low.

“They say it’s dead downtown,” said an event organizer speaking into a bullhorn. “Today it is.”

There were bride and groom zombies, punk and redneck zombies, trumpet player and food service zombies, pregnant zombies and little kid zombies, nurse zombies and superhero zombies. All walks of walkers were represented, and the street was lined with the uninfected shooting photos and video with their cameras and phones. Many of the undead lingered around the McDonald’s downtown, sipping sodas and munching fries.

However, the pale shamblers dragging themselves into the library early the next morning had more on their minds than brains as the second day of Local Books Alive began. Novelists, poets, historians, military buffs, children’s writers and more shared their work with readers and networked with one another.

Throughout the room, authors shared stories, sold books, and talked with browsers. Michael Goldcraft explored the challenges of horror fiction; poet Sharla Shultz caught up with old friend Martha Spiva, who is in turn helping her husband Ernest prepare his memoir, “Growing up on Grace.”

T. Marie Smith launched her literary career that morning, selling the very first copy of her very first book; meanwhile Ken Tucker continued his success story — a memoir about his time as a B-17 tailgunner in World War II is going into its third printing. Both are new writers late in life; across the aisle was “Princess” Yterie Milliona DeValt, 8, who was there to market her self-titled activity book.

Any way you look at it:


Thursday, November 04, 2010

REVIEW: Michael Lister's 'The Body and the Blood'

WEWAHITCHKA — After exploring other characters and locales in his recent titles, “Thunder Beach” and the critically acclaimed “Double Exposure,” author Michael Lister returns to his original mystery series about prison chaplain John Jordan in his latest novel, “The Body and the Blood.”

Jordan is an ex-cop and a recovering alcoholic who is working to reconcile with his estranged wife. He’s flawed, but trying to fix his problems. He’s a man of faith who struggles to reconcile grace and justice while working with the worst offenders the state can gather into one place — fictional Pottersville Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison situated in the piney woods of rural Northwest Florida.

Lister lives in Wewahitchka, where many residents work at nearby Gulf Correctional Institution, a model for PCI and its environs. In the early 1990s, Lister was the youngest chaplain within the state Department of Corrections, and for almost a decade, he served as a contract, staff or senior chaplain at three prison facilities in the Panhandle.

Lister further identifies himself with the small towns, deep woods and river swamps of North Florida. It is one reason he is proud to be considered a “regional writer,” a topic he covered in an inspirational address at last weekend’s Local Books Alive event at the Bay County Public Library.

This unique combination of spiritual calling and life experiences led to Lister’s first novel, “Power in the Blood” (1997), which introduced Jordan, his sealed-off world and sense of personal isolation. Jordan seeks to save the lives, if not necessarily the souls, of some of the state’s hardest hearts. And Lister realistically takes us with Jordan through the gates and looping razor wire into the claustrophobic and dangerous depths of a massive prison.

As the new story unfolds, inmate Justin Menge is found dead; he was a key witness against an accused rapist. The suspect list fills fast, but the mystery is great: The dead man’s cell was locked, and the body is found across the room from the pool of blood, lying on unstained sheets.

It’s a compelling locked-room whodunit, with personal issues connecting Jordan emotionally to the crime. There also is an exploration of identity that takes many forms as the various characters move through the storyline, not the least of which is Jordan’s own struggle with who he is and who he wants to be.

Jordan is tough but not mean; he has a strong moral compass, but often fails to live up to his own standards. He knows the dangers of his chosen path, but braves them for the sake of the humanity he wants to believe is still inside even those who have fallen the farthest — because, if they can be saved, then maybe he can too.
This review appeared in today's Entertainer insert in The News Herald and online here.

Full disclosure: Michael is a friend of mine, and his imprint published my novel, 'Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century.' He has been an inspiration to me and many, many writers in this region. You may want to take that into account when digesting this review, or you could take my word for it: If you enjoy mysteries and crime novels, and you appreciate tales of believers struggling in a harsh world, you'll like this book.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Photo Blog: Images from the Local Books Alive

Saturday was spent in the company of my peers at the Local Books Alive! event held at the Bay County Public Library. Here's the story in photos:

Cate ("Kathy") Nobel arranges her books in the early a.m. Behind her to the left is Ed Offley, a former News Herald colleague who now writes about military history.

Dean "Deano" Minton displays his debut novel, "Universal Essence."

Jack Saunders catches up on his reading.

Ken Tucker poses with me. Ken is a local who served as a B-17 bomber tailgunner in WWII and wrote his memoir of the war with the help of his daughter, Wanda, who took this photo. I interviewed him for the paper several years ago.

Marlene Womack, who writes a local history column for the News Herald, has several books of local history in print.

I took Marie Smith's photo right after she sold and signed her first book. She was ecstatic. I remember how that felt when it happened to me.
Michael Brim (Goldcraft) talks to browsers. The woman in green had just bought my collection of short stories, which she chose after hearing me describe the final tale as "Jack Kerouac versus the Zombies." She had a poem in the Postcards from Pottersville (volume 1).

Author Sharla Shults and old friend Martha Spiva catch up with each other. Sharla has just published a collection of poetry; Martha is helping her husband, Ernest (former Rutherford High School principal) publish his memoir, "Growing up on Grace," for which I'm writing a blurb.

Nathan brought me a copy of the latest "Meow" 'zine (Samhain Edition), which has a poem by him and flash fiction by me on facing pages. It also contains an ad for his band's new CD.
The lovely Bettina Mead, spokeswoman for the library and organizer of Local Books Alive!, poses with Ken Tucker's other daughter, Barbara.

Be sure to keep an eye open for the February 2011 main event for Books Alive!, which will feature author Carl Haissen.


Monday, November 01, 2010

Photo/Video Blog: At the Zombie Walk

I braved the chance that something terrible would happen and went downtown to record the inaugural Zombie Walk in Panama City on Friday. Here's the video:

It was a fun time. My kids got into the effort, as seen in this picture of the three of us taken by News Herald photographer Andrew Wardlow:

Andrew also caught me in the process of being "attacked" during the video shoot:

For more on the event, check out this report and this photo gallery. I'll add some more photos I shot later in an edit.