Thursday, December 29, 2011

Forget the Mayan calendar, my calendar ends on Saturday!

PANAMA CITY — I don’t want to alarm anyone, but the end of the world may be closer than you think.
I mean, I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet is familiar by now with the ancient Mayan calendar or has at least heard of it. I don’t use it every day, or ever, but apparently the ancient Mayans were really good calendarians, or whatever, and they ended their desk calendars on Dec. 21, 2012.

The word on the street is that the ancient Mayans believed that date marked the end of one cycle of the world. I Googled that to be sure. I saw it on the Internet, so I’m certain it’s accurate.

Here’s the thing: The ancient Mayan calendar may end on Dec. 21, 2012, but the calendar on my desk ends Dec. 31, 2011 — which is only a couple more days away! I’m afraid that MVW Consumer & Office Products Inc. of Sydney, N.Y., might know something the ancient Mayans didn’t know.

I haven’t called them to ask, or anything. I just jumped straight to the panic.

I suppose the ancient Mayans were way smart, but they still ate each other’s hearts, so it’s not like you could really trust them. And as far as I know, no one at MVW Consumer & Office Products Inc. ever ate anyone’s heart. I think that’s even illegal in New York.

I haven’t called to ask them about that either. I’m afraid to. When I Googled “Is eating human hearts from live sacrifices illegal in New York?” the Internet showed me entries on cannibalism, infanticide and the “most common questions asked by non-Muslims.” (I am not even kidding about that part.)


What? What’s that?


Excuse me. I have just been informed that we have additional desk calendars for 2012. They even go to Dec. 31 of that year. Apparently, MVW Consumer & Office Products Inc. printed more and the world is NOT, in fact, coming to an end on Saturday. The nice people in the white suits tell me that more calendars are EVEN NOW being made for 2013.

Imagine my relief.

You’ll notice the ancient Mayans aren’t making new calendars. (You may have noticed by now that I use the term “ancient” when referring to the Mayans so as not to offend so-called “modern” Mayans, about 10 million of them, who are looking to cash in on end-of-the-world tourism next year.)

I suspect the ancient Mayans were just being lazy and didn’t want to have to chisel a whole new calendar in another stone. That stuff isn’t easy to do. You can get bad finger cramps.

Or maybe all that eating each other’s hearts made them lazy, and it was just coincidence that they designed their calendars to be recyclable every eon or so.

Smarty pants ancient Mayans with your calendars that end on Dec. 21. Eat your heart out: My new calendar goes 10 days longer.

So, you know, never mind what I was saying before. Carry on with whatever you were doing. I’m sure 2012 will be fine.

Happy New Year


(Link to a NASA FAQ about 2012 rumors and myths.)
BTW, That image above? That's an Aztec calendar. It's not even Mayan. That's how little I care about the end of the world.

(This is my 'Undercurrents' column for Dec. 28, 2011. Check it out here too.) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reading List for the New Year

The death of Borders contributed to a gigantic haul of reading materials for the family's Christmas presents. Additional books came from Books-a-Million's discount racks. This is a list of the books I received and will be reading in the next several weeks:

Hardback Graphic Novels/Illustrated books:
Instructions by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess (I love the children's books by Gaiman, and Vess' illustrations are wonderful; if there's a special girl in your family, you should get her "The Blueberry Girl" by these two. "Instructions" is a good one for the adventurous little boy.)
DC Comics Year By Year: A Visual Chronicle
Jim Butcher's Dresden Files: Storm Front
Angel: The Crown Prince Syndrome
Seven Soldiers of Victory (Grant Morrison)
The Green Woman (Peter Straub)
Black Kiss (Howard Chaykin)
SHIELD: Architects of Forever
Deathlok the Demolisher
Spider-Woman: Agent of SWORD
Captain America: The New Deal
Annihilation: conquest
Doorways (George R.R. Martin) - based on a TV series proposal he wrote in the 1990s.

Devil Dog
Shadow Knights
It's a Wonderful Life

Paperback graphic novels/illustrated books:
Fantastic Four: The End
Exiles Ultimate Collection
Exiles: Starting Over
Exiles: Down the Rabbit Hole
Incorruptible Vol. 2
Human Target
Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympians
Wonder Woman: Contagion
Wonder Woman: Ends of the Earth
Ultimate Elektra: Devil's Due
Squadron Supreme: Hyperion vs. Nighthawk
Spiderman: Fever
Criminal: The Sinners (Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips)
Zatanna: Mistress of Magic

Hardback Novels:
Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles (by Michael Moorcock)
Manhood for Amateurs (Michael Chabon)
From Hell with Love (Simon Green)
Fatal Error (F.Paul Wilson)
Hunting for Hemingway

Paperback novels:
Ghosts of War
The Bloodstained Man
Final Crisis
Torchwood: Risk Management
By the Sword (F.Paul Wilson)
Managing Death
Morlock Night
Conspiracies (F.Paul Wilson)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Memories of Jolly Old St. Nick

(Note: This column initially posted as a repeat of this column. Sorry about the mix-up.) 

Tom Needham gets a new suit in 2001.
Once upon a time, long ago and far away …

My father worked for Monsanto when I was a kid, and each Christmas we would visit the plant north of Pensacola for the annual Christmas party. I was amazed by all the lights and decorations arranged outside, and entering the plant was like walking into a science fiction installation full of strange machines.

These memories are dimmed by time, but I still recall the employee’s band playing jazzy versions of holiday songs on some kind of organ, guitar and drums. A woman dressed as an elf thumped a tambourine. Christmas cartoons — Woody Woodpecker and early Chip’n’Dale — projected on a screen in a darkened conference room full of metal folding chairs. The sound of a movie projector whirring.

Waiting in line to see Santa Claus in the big cafeteria, then receiving a toy. I don’t member a specific toy, or even what we ate in the cafeteria, but I seem to recall being afraid of the Santa fellow.

You never knew where he would show up. There he was, on a frigid Saturday afternoon, riding atop the Century Volunteer Fire Department’s big red truck at the end of the annual Christmas parade. Ringing a bell outside the Kmart store. Riding a Norelco shaver on TV (I was pretty sure that animated Santa was the same version you saw on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”).

We even came across Santa one summer on a family road trip. Somewhere in Georgia, I think, a Christmas village where you could feed reindeer and have your picture made on Santa’s sleigh.

I’ve met quite a few Santas in the intervening years, covering Christmas events at the Navy base, schools, day programs and so forth. One of them was a talented and big-hearted photographer in the off-season, and I miss him especially when the days grow short and cold.

Writing notes to Santa was part of the childhood holiday routine. (I even tried sending him a note one summer, just to see what happened. For the record: Nothing happened.)

We had lots of traditions: Circling toys in the Sears & Roebuck catalog (Mego heroes were particularly important); baking and decorating cookies with Mom; visiting my great-grandparents along with all of the extended family; reading the Nativity story on Christmas Eve.

About a week before Christmas, we’d go to the tree farm somewhere outside of town to kill a tree in honor of Jesus. Sometimes I helped Dad bring it into the house after he trimmed the base. We always used silvery “icicle” decorations, which would sometimes melt in contact with the glass bulbs. The ornaments, also glass, were extremely fragile and shattered into a million sharp shards if dropped. You spent the last week of December picking glass or pine needles out of your socks.

Santa always seemed to come through, no matter my reluctance to speak with him directly. Something I had circled in the catalog would arrive — a Batcave playset, say, or a Major Matt Mason mooncrawler — along with other things I hadn’t thought to ask for. Often, this included a cowboy outfit with fresh rolls of caps; I loved the smell of gunpowder on Christmas morning.

Smelled like victory.


(Note: This was my column for today's News Herald. You can see it here also.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Library event was fun

Sold a few books at the library's "Last Minute Christmas Gifts" event today.
Slim Fatz, a local bluesman, stopped by to drop off his newest CD, and I caught a photo of him while he was talking with flute maker and player Paul McAuliffe.

I met lots of new people and hopefully created some new readers. It was interesting to see that I sold as many of my older books as the new one. Two copies of "Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century," one each of the "City Limits" anthologies, and another "The Best of Days." Most people talkative and in a good mood, which makes those events worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Every ornament tells a Christmas tale

PANAMA CITY — I don’t know about your Christmas tree, but ours is full of holiday stories. It has been described as looking like a toy shop exploded all over it, and that’s not far from true. It definitely is a reflection of the things we enjoy and the memories we hold dear.

There are heroes and spacecraft from “Star Trek” and “Star Wars,” superheroes and heroines, TV and movie icons from Humphrey Bogart to Jimmy Stewart to “The Lone Ranger” and “I Dream of Jeanie.” There are memorial ornaments for those loved ones we have lost, as well as ornaments celebrating our first Christmas as a couple and the first Christmases for our babies.

Some of them light up. Some of them make sounds. Some of them just hang there looking pretty. The one for “It’s a Wonderful Life” has a bell that rings each time an angel gets his wings.

The oldest item on the tree is a small plastic reindeer, once white but now faded to yellow. I last wrote about this artifact of Christmas Past almost a decade ago, but I retell its history every year as someone new sees our tree for the first time — or just to make my kids sigh, “Yes, Dad, we know.”

Back in the days of black-and-white television, Grandma Simmons had an arrangement of four of these little coursers attached by thin red ribbon to a white plastic sleigh. They generally occupied a windowsill or a tabletop through the holidays. And when I was just a tadpole, I would sometimes use the sleigh and reindeer to transport my Major Matt Mason dolls around the living room.

At some point during my elementary school years, Grandma passed the sleigh and two of the surviving deer to me. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the set, but only this single deer remains — fragile, yellowed, with a broken antler and chipped snout, and stains of dried invisible tape around its torso.

Each year, I perch it in a place of honor close to the top of my family’s Christmas tree. It catches the lights and seems to glow.

Other ornaments on our tree have stories, too. The silvery “Joy” that hangs near the deer, for instance. The Scarlet O’Hara figurines that passed to us from my other Grandma. The “Enterprise,” and the Snoopies, and the Harry Potter. My kids have their favorites, and my wife has hers.

The reindeer is mine. I place it on a limb and fall through a doorway to childhood Christmastimes, and not in a melancholy way like you might get from that old “Toyland” song. I miss Grandma, yes, but the memories are warm and filled with smiles.

These stories are important. They connect us with our past. They put the future in perspective. Someday, I figure, some item I gave someone will be a story told to a great-grandchild, a smile recalled, a gift cherished. I might be a faceless memory by then, but I will remain part of that story so long as it is told.

What story will you be a part of? How will you be remembered? What yellowed artifacts will carry your story into unknown days and plant themselves in the memories of generations yet unborn?

Peace (on earth).

(This is my Undercurrents column for Dec. 15, 2011.)

EDIT: After this column initially ran, my father sent me these photos from Christmas 1952, showing him as an 11-year-old and the complete Santa's sleigh and eight reindeer as they originally appeared.)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Christmas Song of the Day: Fairytale of New York

On Twitter, I've been posting a "Christmas Song of the Day" for the past few days. Today, I put up the Pogues' "Fairytale of the New York." Tells you what kind of end-of-week mood I'm in.

Yesterday, the 31st anniversary of the death of John Lennon, the song was, of course, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." I'm morally obligated to warn you that the video at that link has some gruesome imagery.

The day before, I chose the 21-minute long Francis Ford Coppola filmed "Junky's Christmas" written and narrated by William S. Burroughs. (So, the mood has been off all week, looks like.)

The day I started all this, I began with Bing Crosby and David Bowie's "Little Drummer Boy (Peace on Earth)." (Along with a bonus song, the scarily accurate Funny or Die recreation of the performance starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.)

I'll bring you some more songs as the month progresses.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas haunt ‘Batman Noel’

As the new original graphic novel “Batman Noel” opens, Gotham City’s dark knight is tracking a petty criminal named Bob through the snowy streets on Christmas Eve.

Bob is just trying to scrape by, running errands for the Joker so he can provide for his sick son. But while Joker seems the obvious “Scrooge” in this retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” it is Batman who ends up being visited by specters. Indeed, in Bob’s world, Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne is the penny-pincher who begrudgingly gives him Christmas day off.

This version of the Batman is a weary veteran, emotionally scarred by his war on crime. He has lost his compassion for the victims he once swore to protect, focusing instead on winning the war at any cost. He has isolated himself from his friends and distanced himself from the common people of his city. All he cares about is the bottom line, and he will sacrifice anyone to achieve his ends — even the safety of a sickly child.

The story of “Batman Noel” (hardcover, 112 pages, $22.99) uses “A Christmas Carol” as the bones for a desperate adventure tale exploring what it means to be a hero. Batman must come to terms with his past, present and future as he battles villains from the campy 1960s to the dark and brooding menaces of today.

Download a preview of the book here.

It’s a familiar trope to longtime comic book readers to see their heroes involved in holiday-themed adventures, but this goes one better. “Batman Noel” gives readers a realistic variation on the Dark Knight (the designs are very similar to the current movie incarnation), as well as his enemies and allies from different eras of his career. Robin, Catwoman, Superman and Joker make appearances, filling roles similar to characters in Dickens’ tale.

This fast-paced and beautifully illustrated book was written and drawn by Lee Bermejo, who also illustrated the best-selling “Joker” graphic novel with writer Brian Azzarello in 2008. His Superman story in “Wednesday Comics” was serialized in USA Today.

The story doesn’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of the characters, and it doesn’t get bogged down by their negative aspects. There’s more gravy than grave about it, Dickens might say. Rather, it’s a good introduction to one man’s interpretation of the icons, a story anyone with passing interest in comics will enjoy, and a real gift for a true fan.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy This

I don't generally talk politics. I have my reasons.

But I've been following the Occupy movement via Twitter, the NYT live Occupy blog and other online resources, and it irritates me that I can't find anything about it in local media. (Or, in recent days, as I was watching live feeds of clashes via the web, nothing was being broadcast on places like Headline News.) At least, that was the case on specific instances when I went looking for more info.

I could easily find newspaper and TV reports on the protests in Egypt, where citizens were sporting bleeding head wounds from military or police. I couldn't find reports on U.S. citizens who were being thrown in police vans with bleeding head wounds after the billionaire mayor of New York City sent in his helmeted police.

Even when that wounded citizen was a NYC councilman:
New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez screams police brutality while being arrested on Broadway after he was with a group who tried to push through a line of police officers. NYPD Clear Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall St. Protestors. Tuesday November 15, 2011. NEW YORK, NY, USA. Photo by (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)
I could find stories about journalists being detained in foreign countries on trumped up charges because they were trying to cover the events there. I could not find stories about journalists being detained in my own country when they were trying to cover the Occupy movement:

A New York City Police Department accredited journalist is arrested while on Broadway. NYPD Clear Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall St. Protestors. Tuesday November 15, 2011. NEW YORK, NY, USA. Photo by (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)
You can clearly see her press credentials on her lanyard. Journalists across the country -- 26 of them so far -- have been detained by police on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to obstruction just because they were on site of a breaking news story where peaceful protesters were getting the blunt end of what passes for justice in our country. Hit this link for info from Josh Stearns, who is tracking and verifying these arrests.

I could find stories about people being hit with tear gas or pepper spray or Mace while rioting in Tunisia, but there were no reports to be found of people being sprayed in the face with pepper spray while sitting and chanting on the sidewalk of an American city. That is, until this happened:

Seattle activist Dorli Rainey, 84, reacts after being hit with pepper spray during an Occupy Seattle protest on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at Westlake Park. (Joshua Trujillo/

Does this sound like America? Oh, wait a minute:
John Filo's iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a 14-year-old runaway, kneeling in anguish over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard. (via
I guess it does actually. No one has been killed yet, but give the people with the guns time; the movement is still young. Seems to me the last time this happened, there was a war on and our president was more concerned about China than his own people.

Larry Downing/Reuters
President Obama with Hu Jintao of China in Hawaii. Mr. Obama has stepped up his criticism of Chinese economic policies.

That's not who I meant, but man it's weird how history repeats. (And for the record, that photo ran with a story about how Obama and the Republican Congress found something they agree on: Criticizing Chinese trade practices. How nice for them. Did they also agree that pizza sauce counts as a serving of vegetables?)

Meanwhile, my friend Karen Zacharias today had some choice words about finding something to stand for before the movement falls apart because of a lack of singular vision or clearly stated mission, and because they're protesting the wrong folks -- we can't stop the rich from screwing us over, but maybe we can vote out the cronies that aid and abet them. Please read her essay, 'Occupy Congress.'

Anyway, I remarked on the lack of Occupy coverage in the media to a person who is ostensibly in charge of such things, and was told he didn't know about these stories. That a NYC councilman had been busted in the head and arrested. That journalists were being arrested. That U.C. students were pepper sprayed for sitting on a sidewalk; as I was telling him, the local TV news ran a clip from the video below, and he was shocked. Shocked, I say. (Really, you should watch this video.)

He also said the people who make decisions on "wire stories" are very conservative and wouldn't be interested in those stories.

I believe they are in the majority right now, and I say to them, 
Shame on you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Between There

I'm pretty happy with Between There, a new anthology that was just released, containing my sci-fi ghost story "Space Oddity," as well as a poem by my son. There are stories by editor Anthony Buoni, GCSC professor Lynn Wallace, and several others. It's available through Pulpwood Press, or via here.

Tuesday, I read my story at the Writers Gallery meeting at The Purple Grape. Anthony read his story as well.

That night I also got some details regarding a Christmas Eve performance I was asked to participate in at Northstar Church. Apparently, the folks putting the event together like my "grandfatherly" reading voice and want me to narrate a portion of the show; they will dress me in a smoking jacket, give me a pipe as a prop and have me sit in an easy chair to read while the band goes through some music and some original paintings are projected on a big screen.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Meanwhile, I'm still behind the curve on my NaNoWriMo project. I hope to close the gap a bit tonight. Wish me luck.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Off the rails

David Angier met me at Purple Grape on Friday, where some of the local NaNoWriMo crew were meeting for a "write-in." He shot some pictures (including the one here) and interviewed us about the program for a story he plans to write for Panama City Living magazine. He also bought me a Coke, so an all-around win, I think.

My project got derailed this weekend; too much to do, too many things on my mind, too many voices in the house. I'm not complaining. It was a good weekend and we got lots done around the house, enjoyed a couple of visitors, spent some money at Books-a-Million, and watched Captain America last night, (which was just as much fun as I remember it) . Didn't even get around to seeing The Walking Dead yesterday. See? I was busy.

I hope to get back to the grind tonight and make up some words. I'm still a loooong way from finished.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


I have jumped on the fun train that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). My visits here may be shortened as a result of the requirement to write about 1600-some-odd words daily in order to reach the 50,000 word mark by Nov. 30. (In my case every single one of the 1600-some words will be odd, but that's OK.)

My project is called "This Mortal Flesh," and it's a zombie survival novel. It's the first time I've written a detailed outline for a novel project rather than just having some beats mapped out and flying by the seat of my pants. We'll see how well it works.

You can track my progress here at my NaNoWriMo profile. 

So far, so good. One day in, and I'm ahead of the curve. I doubt that will continue. Wish me luck.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Local Books Alive Photo Blog

Saturday was Local Books Alive 2011 at the Bay County Public Library. Here are some pictures:
David A, & Cash Money

My friend and former News Herald colleague David Angier bought the first-ever trade paperback of my novel, The Book of Gabriel. I told him I wanted a photo of the first buyer, and he said it was more important to get a photo of that first money.

Michael Lister & Nick May

A total of 23 area writers showed up to play along (24 were scheduled). I sold both copies of the hardback version of Gabriel that I had on hand, three of the trade, two of my column collection (Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents), one of the City Limits anthologies I edited, and three of my Best of Days collection. A pretty good response for two hours of sale time.
Mark Boss

Lee Baker
Dax and Jim Dodge

Mom and Me
Some names (you might recognize from this blog) that were there included authors Mark Boss, Lee Baker, Nick May, Michael Lister, Dax and Jim Dodge, Olivia Cooley (deBelle Byrd), Jeannie Cooper, Pat Douglas, Michael Brim (Goldcraft), Karon Phillips, Marlene Womack, and several others.

I had a visit from my mom, my daughter, and Donna Williams, whose daughter Marisa was the inspiration for a character in Gabriel. We also visited with Kayla, who appears in a sequence of the trailer for Gabriel being edited now by my friend Lou.
Me and Donna Williams

Pat Douglas, right, and wife.
It was a good day, beginning with presentations by Karon, Michael Brim and Olivia. I managed to give away a bunch of stickers and copies of our new tab insert that replaces The Entertainer in the News Herald now. Met some new readers and spread my brain worms into unsuspecting victims. One young woman really wanted a copy of The Best of Days, but her partner wanted Gabriel (and she had the funds); when her partner bought Gabriel, she went ahead and bought Best of Days, saying this was rent money she was spending.

I signed the book, "Thanks for the rent money." It seemed appropriate.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lou1492 & LightsUpOnKayla & HeyNickMay make a movie

Kayla & Nick as Shekinah & Gabriel
I have some good friends. Possibly even courageous ones.

This evening, Kayla and Nick met me, Lou and my daughter Jessi at the shoreline behind Oaks by the Bay Park to shoot a sequence that opens my novel, The Book of Gabriel. Kayla assured us the water wasn't too cold (she was more concerned about the crabs crawling in the sea grass and the jellyfish we spotted). To say she was a trouper is an understatement. She dunked herself under water several times so Lou could get just the right shot, while all Nick had to do was sit and be cool.
Lou and Kayla in the bay.
Lou was great to offer to make a trailer for the story, and Kayla and Nick were great to volunteer for the shoot. We were concerned about Kayla being too cold (the temp here has been cool in recent days), but she said she was an "art martyr" anyway. Jessi and Lou both joined her in the shallows to get a couple of shots, while I stayed dry on the shore with Nick (and we laughed at the antics out in the water). Let's just say, we had a slowly gathering audience of onlookers on the boardwalk who had more to look at than a gorgeous sunset...

Reviewing the shots.
We then got a shot of Nick pocketing the photo of the angel Gabriel meets along a back road. These shots will be added to others that Lou has gathered, and a few more we have yet to shoot. I'll post the trailer as soon as he's pleased with it.

It was great fun, and it warmed my heart to have such helpful and willing friends (and daughter, too) to participate in the project.

Lou & me, in the brilliance of the moment.
If you'd like to read the book this trailer is being made for, just come by the Bay County Public Library on Saturday for Local BooksALIVE, a gathering of area writers and authors. (Or download the ebook version for cheap.) We'll have informative presentations from 10 a.m. to noon, break for lunch (you're encouraged to bring a sack lunch and talk with the authors), then have sales and signings from 1 to 3 p.m. I hope to see you there!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Writer's Gallery Tonight

I'll be reading at Writer's Gallery tonight. Last time I read the first chapter of The Book of Gabriel. The time before that, I read a couple of shorts from The Best of Days. This time I will read a work in progress, the first sequence of my new novel project, "This Mortal Flesh." It will not be for everyone, and I'm very nervous about reading a first draft piece of a work I'm still nudging to life.

Writer's Gallery details here.

I had coffee today with Kathie Bennett, who gave me an ACTION PLAN for this new project. She was to address the Panhandle Writers Guild later today on some of these same topics. (She was in town for her dad's birthday, and because it was just a year ago that they lost her mom.) Kathie is a great supporter; she makes me believe I can actually write.

I work well with deadlines. My biggest success in recent years was forcing myself to do the 366 Days project that resulted in Best of Days and Book of Gabriel. I plan to use NANOWRIMO to make myself finish a first draft of the new project. And then, to Kathie's action plan. Cross your fingers.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Creative Con is Coming

PANAMA CITY — Saturday promises to be a noisy one at the library, as superheroes descend on the facility for the second annual Creative Con.
Creative Con is the Bay County Public Library’s effort to recognize the growing popularity of the graphic novel format — and the fact that lots of kids started reading because of comics. Event organizer Bettina Mead (who generally signs her emails to me with lots of Xs and Os) said it was important that the library provide relevant information to all the citizens of Bay County, no matter their age.

“Many adults are still under the impression that a comic format automatically means juvenile content, but the average age of the comic reader is 30, therefore this is certainly not true,” Mead said. “Libraries are the first and best place for diversity. We play an important role in introducing the public to new formats.”

Not only are comic books “valid literature, expressing both the written word as well as art,” Mead said, but they are also valuable educational tools for children — especially those who are struggling to read.
“I believe partnering with Creative Con, we are creating a new cadre of library supporters among the young people who read graphic novels, and as you know, libraries are for everyone — young and old alike,” she added.

Superheroine with art card by Cassandra Collins.
Guests of Creative Con will be given two blank sketch cards to get free sketches of their favorite heroes or cartoon characters from the artists at the show. Costumed heroes will be on site, and visitors can register for giveaways including T-shirts, graphic novels, comic books and more. Josh Hughes, a local artist who writes and draws the web comic, will be one of the guests.

Bring your favorite pencils and try your hand at drawing a sketch card in the All Ages Sketch Off. There will be creative activities throughout the day, including a belly dance lesson and demo, with a panel discussion on comics beginning at 5 p.m. Details are still being finalized.

Local graphic artist Jayson Kretzer (who is working on character designs for a graphic novel version of my novel, "The Book of Gabriel") helped Mead organize the event. Kretzer has more than 12 official sketch/trading card sets on his resume, including cards for a recent Marvel Comics set. His work has appeared in the “Art of Voltron” book and online in a weekly web comic, “Wannabe Heroes.” He regularly participates in a drawing “jam” at Arena Comics in Panama City. (Check out his Deviant Art gallery.)

Art card by Jayson Kretzer
“I never quit drawing after kindergarten,” Kretzer said.

Mead said last year’s inaugural gathering was a success in many ways. She received notes from parents thanking the library for “creating something special.” One patron told her it was a great way to show children and teenagers “how cool” the library is.

“Everyone had such a wonderful time last year,” Mead said. “You couldn’t move for all the young people sketching their own cartoons, trading their comics or their sketch cards, and parents with little ones just having fun coming together.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Station Identification

My buddy Chris Arrant did this recently on his Tumblr. Warren Ellis, comic book writer and novelist, does it regularly on his website. I say always steal from those you admire, so here are places you can find me:

I tweet about anything I see that interests me here: I use Echofon on my desktop to keep up with the twitter accounts I follow.

I have a tumblr that I still occasionally add to. I suspect it might see renewed interest in upcoming weeks. It's here<<

Facebook continues to be an obsession despite the recent changes and the fact that I seldom see posts from the majority of my friends any more. (I've been wondering if I should create a Facebook fan page for my writing? Yes? No?)

My columns for the News Herald and random blogs appear here<< (Some of these are rewritten/repurposed items from this blog, or vice versa.)

My work with is generally uncredited. Bylined versions of these entries often appear on the Get Local page at

I still have a MySpace, though I seldom even visit there.

You can check out my self-published stuff in my "author spotlight" page at Lulu. (While you're there, click some review buttons. I'd appreciate it.)

I have a YouTube account as well. There's no telling what you'll find there, as it has been used for News Herald work, home videos, short films and so forth.

This is me at Linked In. I have no idea what use this place is, and I haven't updated it in a while.

I'm probably other places online also, but just can't recall it right now.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Catching up & Things to do

Mike Brim and a Vampire
Mike Brim (who writes horror novels under the name of Michael Goldcraft) was the guest author in my Education Encore class on Friday. He talked to the class about how he builds his characters, getting to know them before he begins writing about them. He wants to know how they react, and why they do the things they do, so he'll recognize immediately if they do something "uncharacteristic." He is scheduled to do a presentation at the Bay County Public Library on Oct. 13 at 6 p.m.

Minutemen by Nick May
Nick May will kick off his "Follow the Oil" tour to debut is new novel, "Minutemen," on Friday with stops all over the place for the next several days. I have read a pre-publication copy of Minutemen, and it's a hoot. (Look for my review here with the complete schedule of appearances on Thursday after it hits the web at

The Offer at The Axis Venue
The Offer made their official Panama City debut with new lead vocalist Nathan Simmons on Friday night. (I'll be posting a video of one of their songs later.)

I will be participating in Local BooksALIVE at the Bay County Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 29. It's a full day of local writers and their work, with a slate of speakers beginning at 10 a.m. (then a lunch break at noon) and book sales and signings from 1 to 3 p.m. I will be there with The Book of Gabriel as well as remaining copies of The Best of Days and other earlier works. I hope you'll stop by and see me before you head downtown to the second annual Panama City Zombie Walk at 4 p.m. (More on this as the event details are arranged.)

Meanwhile, check out this video I shot of last year's Zombie Walk:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

What's up?

Mark Boss at Education Encore.
My friend Mark Boss, a local author, visited my Education Encore class last Friday to discuss "plot" in the craft of short fiction writing. While he was talking, a class member downloaded his latest novel to her smartphone. How cool is that?

Disembodied floating heads.
I toured the Jaycees Haunted House yesterday, where the good folks showed me some of the shocks they're planning. It opens Friday, and proceeds go to support a Christmas charity that buys toys for needy children.

Enlightenment-era Hipsters.
I also visited a dress rehearsal for AMADEUS at Gulf Coast State College. The show opens Friday and runs two weekends. Check out my behind the scenes video below:

Coming up later this week: Headed to the First Friday breakfast meeting of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce, grand opening of the Tervis store at Pier Park, and a concert where my son will debut as lead singer of The Offer. Check out their latest:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The final 13 of the New 52 (updated)

Today is new comics day all over the U.S., and here is a brief rundown of the comics I have read from the latest batch of DC's New 52 relaunch. (Read about the first release, Justice League, here; the 13 issues released on the first full week here; 13 more issues in week 2 here; and 12 more issues of week 3 here.)

The Good:
Justice League Dark No. 1: Dislike the title, which comes off like a joke from the movie "Mystery Men," but the art is strong, and the characters are coming together organically to face a threat superpowered heroes can't punch into submission. Always liked Xanadu, Zatanna, Shade, Deadman and Constantine, and this looks to be a decent adventure for them.

Aquaman No. 1: In which we see regular folks making jokes about how lame an idea Aquaman is, and we see how powerful he truly is. I used to enjoy the Jim Aparo Aquaman adventures in the 1970s, and this seems to hearken back to that (an attempt to make the hero less Silver-Age wacky and more modern). The art is excellent.

Teen Titans No. 1: Kind of liked this, although I feel like they've made Tim Drake (former Robin, now "Red Robin" and looking more like the old Black Condor) look too old. He should be a younger teen. But anyway, he's gathering other teen heroes to take on the forces of N.O.W.H.E.R.E.; lots of action and attitude, and worth a second look.

The Meh:
Flash No. 1: In which Barry Allen makes mistakes, finds out an old friend is now a clone trooper or something. 't's'alright. Wish they'd lay off all the lightning effects.

Superman No. 1: Eh. Too much shoehorned into too few pages, and lots of posturing about the "death of print" in this new media world. Also, why is it that DC's definition of "modern liberated woman" = "sleeps around," while the definition of DC's heroes seems to = lonely guy.

I haven't read these yet (expect an edit here when I do):
I've read these now, and wish I hadn't, for the most part:

Batman: The Dark Knight No. 1: Meh. Another Batman story about him fighting goons trying to escape Arkham Asylum. Been there. Done that.

Voodoo No. 1: AWFUL. JUST AWFUL. The whole book takes place in a strip club, where the title character strips while people talk about her, then she has a discussion with more strippers in the (un)dressing room, then she gives a lap dance to a guy who reveals that he's had her under surveillance, then SHE KILLS HIM and takes on his form. Feel like I spoiled that one? You'd feel worse if you'd read it. I plan to write a whole blog entry about this book and why it is representative of what went wrong with DC's rebooted universe. TERRIBLE BOOK, unless you're a sex-starved 13-year-old or a man with a cartoon fetish.

Blackhawks No. 1: Bad. And that's from someone who likes the idea of secret organizations fighting behind the scenes to keep people safe (i.e., Doc Savage, Buckaroo Banzai, etc.) And I liked the original Blackhawks okay, just not enough to buy a series about them. These Blackhawks are kind of dumb, though, as they fly around in aircraft with big Blackhawk emblems on them, then get upset if people take a photo of the emblem.

All-Star Western No. 1: Featuring Jonah Hex in a Wild West version of Gotham City. Er, pardon? I thought Gotham was on the East Coast? This is a good book. I should've expected no less from the creative team that has been knocking Hex stories out of the park consistently. Hex is hired to come to Gotham and find the "Ripper." He gets mixed up in a secret society that runs the corrupt city. Well done. Add to the "GOOD" list.

The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men No. 1: 
Meh. Two guys who used to be firestorm in old continuity both become Firestorm in a new reboot of the idea. Kind of generic.

Green Lantern: New Guardians No. 1:
Meh. A reboot of the Kyle Raynor GL character in which he is chosen by rings from the spectrum of power ring-wielders. 

I, Vampire No. 1:
Meh. Disappointing, as I have fond memories of this title when it was just one of the stories running in the DC mystery comics of the 1980s. The art is moody and dark, sometimes too dark to tell what's going on or even who is supposed to be speaking. And not very much happens except talking.

The Savage Hawkman No. 1:
Meh. Good to see them trying to give us a clear and concise origin of Hawkman; a reboot of this character was needed long ago. But the execution was off.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Education Encore and Others

Nick May speaking to my class.
It has been a good month for writing, reading, and talking about writing and reading.

My Education Encore class began Friday, and I think it was a success. I had 13 women in the class (no men) and a visit from Nick May, author of Megabelt and the upcoming Minutemen. We talked about the elements of story, wrote character descriptions of ourselves (I encouraged them to make things up so the reader wouldn't know what was actual and what was virtual), and had a drawing for a writing book (I picked some up at the Borders slash-and-burn sale).

This Friday, we define "plots" (where characters are buried when they die), have another book drawing and a visit from author Mark Boss, who recently reviewed my novel "The Book of Gabriel" on his blog. I think it will be another productive and fun day. (I made the mistake of promising to try to write a story based on a few of the odd topics in the news that day. I'll share it here later this week.)

Writers Gallery
Last Tuesday was the first anniversary of Writers Gallery, a gathering I've been attending lately where we read samples of our work. It's open to all ages, genres, genders, and ability; there's no judgment passed, just sharing. This month, we met at Purple Grape, a wine bar in St. Andrews.

Writers Gallery
I took a few pictures, read the opening chapter of TBoG, had a glass of wine with my friends Sean and Stephanie, talked with people I don't get to see often enough, and heard some interesting poetry and stories. Lou and I discussed briefly the ongoing plan. I also met Shelby Vick, an editor of the online pulp magazine Planetary Stories. (I plan to send him some tales soon.)

Michael Lister, Olivia Cooley
A week ago Saturday, I sat in on two sessions at the annual Gulf Coast Writers Conference at Gulf Coast State College. The event, organized by author Michael Lister, brings readers and writers from across the region together. I participated in a panel on Short Story and one on "Other" types of writing (memoir, essay, review, etc.). In addition, the author John Dufresne gave the keynote address at lunch. John is a terrifically talented short story writer and novelist, and university professor. He stayed in town for the week, leading sessions at the nearby Rosemary Beach Conference for Writers; I had planned to get out there during the week for the evening readings, but could never swing the free time. (Here's something I wrote last time I went to the Rosemary conference; I was in a weird mood.)

Aside: The mail just arrived, including 13 more "New 52" first issues from DC. I'll have brief reviews in the next couple of days.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

12 more closer to 52

Got another shipment of new first issue comics in the NEW 52 relaunch of DC Comics' superhero universe earlier this week. Finally had a chance to work my way through all of them. This brings us to -- what? -- 39 total, leaving 13 more for next week.

The Good:
Wonder Woman. Spookiness and action meet in a story mixing Greek mythology with X-Files conspiracy (and giving me the first indication that this reboot is going to represent the gods of myth as akin to what we recognize in today's culture as "grey aliens" with high, rounded heads and big black orbs for eyes. Compare Hermes in this issue to Rama Kushna in the Deadman story below.) The art by Cliff Chiang is stylized and strong, and the story by Greg Rucka  Brian Azzarello (Rucka was a previous WW writer) makes our favorite Amazon a force to be reckoned with.

Birds of Prey. Strong art and a story with flashbacks used in a cinematic fashion introduce only two of the regular team this issue, although there's a visit from the team's former leader, Barbara Gordon. This is action adventure that could easily translate into film, which I maintain is the primary reason behind these reboots: Making the DC Comics universe more multi-media friendly, and more accessible to readers who like their books to reflect their video games and movies rather than vice versa.

Supergirl. (Am I seeing a pattern here? This week's best books seem to feature female characters?) This is another origin story for Supergirl, who was just relaunched a few years back in the pages of the Superman/Batman title (a story that was also adapted direct to DVD.) What can I say? The art is very good, and the story drops you in the heroine's thoughts as she wakes from a long sleep in a crashed spacecraft in Russia, only to discover she has frightening powers when she is attacked by armored goons. There's fun in her discovery, her confusion, and the way the goons react to seeing her costume. Worth a second look at least.

DC Universe Presents: Deadman. Boston Brand was a prima donna who died by an assassin's bullet and gained the power as a ghost to possess living people. In this new 52 version, he has a mission to complete in order to balance the scales; he just isn't sure what that mission requires, and he feels like a failure. Good storytelling, atmospheric art, and a blue Avatar alien for Rama Kushna. I want to know what happens next. (My understanding is that this series will tell a complete story about a DC character -- Deadman's tale is set for five issues -- and then begin a new mini-series that focuses on another DC character.)

Batman. Some reviewers are touting this as the second-best book of the New 52 (after Grant Morrison's Action No. 1). I don't know if I would say that, because it's just a pretty average Batman comic, with the exception of a teamup in the first seven pages that will make you go WHAT?! That was well-played, DC. The final panel drops a big bomb on the Batman family that will be interesting to see play out. You should see this one for sure.

The OK:
Nightwing. Dick Grayson goes back to fighting crime in a new costume that's closer to Batman Beyond than the original Nightwing suit. He visits old friends at the circus where his parents died. Nightwing fights a mercenary hired to kill Grayson. All solidly told and illustrated, but not enough to make me want to grab issue No. 2.

Legion of Super-Heroes: I'm familiar with the Legion, so this tale was not outside my realm of experience, but it was still a little thick with characters and catching up on continuity. This is not a reboot. It's a continuation apparently unaffected by the events of "Flashpoint," the recent mini-series that reset the DC universe. There's even a comment to the effect that the Flashpoint event has made time travel to the past impossible, meaning they can't expect backup from Superman again. Still waiting to see a reason why I should want to pick up a second issue.

Green Lantern Corps. I have a coworker who always pronounces the "p" in "corps." I think that would be appropriate with this book, which seems to be about piling up the body count so the heroes can make up things with the power rings. Never liked the Guy Gardner character, and don't understand why people keep reading him. Otherwise, solid art and portions of a decent story (John Stewart's portion).

Catwoman. Great art. Sexy character. Starts with a bang. Good action. But this one is definitely not one you want young readers picking up. Hint: The first issue is titled "all the costumes don't come off" and the second issue is supposed to be called "the morning after."Between the main character showing off her boobs at every opportunity and the three-page spread as she and Batman strip each other for some sexy time, this is a grown-up story ripe for a PG-13 (soft R?) movie adaptation.

Captain Atom. I picked up the 1980s launch of this character; DC had bought the Charlton Comics characters and introduced them via "Crisis on Infinite Earths," then launched them in solo comics as part of its combined and streamlined universe of 1985. If you read (or saw the film of) The Watchmen, you'd recognize a version of him as Doctor Manhattan. This comic brings the good captain close to Dr. Manhattan depth as he begins to see his body as atoms connected only by cosmic forces, and learns he can change matter into other arrangements by thought alone. Intriguing concepts and execution.

Blue Beetle. Another Charlton character, but this time rebooting and reintroducing a latter incarnation created only a few years ago by "Leverage" producer/co-creator John Rogers as a Mexican-American teenager. I'm familiar with the character as interpreted on the "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" TV show, but haven't seen much of him in comics, so this is pretty new. However, I don't read or speak Spanish, so much of the dialogue is beyond me. Doubt I'll give it a second look.

The Bad:
Red Hood and the Outlaws. Oh, this is just awful, especially if you have any history with the main characters. Red Hood is a jerk (but then, he always has been, which is why callers voted to kill him off when he was Robin back in the 1980s). Roy Harper (the former Speedy) is a douche, willing to hop into bed with his buddy's girl because she invites him. And Starfire, the former Teen Titan, interstellar princess, fierce and honorable warrior, and love of Dick Grayson, is now a slut from outer space who apparently cares so little about earth and its people that she can't be bothered to remember any of them for any length of time. Which makes it easier, I think, to forget about reading a book featuring her.