Thursday, October 31, 2013

Requiem for the Restless Dead

(Note to regular readers: Some portions of this column for and The News Herald were "borrowed" from an earlier blog. Self-cannibalism is my life.)

Little PC Zombie Walkers
PANAMA CITY — Apropos of All Hallows Eve on Thursday and Saturday’s status as Day of the Dead, let’s talk about this whole “zombie” thing.

Now, some of you are thinking, “Here he goes again,” but just take a look around:
They’re everywhere.

 AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” based on the long-running comic book created by Robert Kirkman, is the highest rated series on television. (News Herald writer Brad Milner is blogging about each episode weekly at

 Sundance Channel just kicked off a series called “The Returned,” which is a different take on the recently departed. Sprint even has a TV commercial that uses a zombie to comic effect. And that’s just the drop in the bucket, not even mentioning the glut of movies, video games, novels, ads and comics seizing on the image of deathless humans hungry for living flesh.

I was asked this week why that is. Luckily, I had already asked that same question last week of Crystal Creamer, the Panama City woman who organized a recent Zombie Walk to gather nonperishable food for the Panama City Rescue Mission.

“I think it’s because they are us — but not us any more,” she said. “It’s just terrorizing because it’s something we can’t control.”

My writer friend, Mark Boss, said the fascination could be based on the sense that people find zombies more accessible than vampires, which were another recent cultural fad. (I once heard the Young Adult section of a book store referred to as the “brooding vampire” section; the person who said this was relieved that the witchcraft fad seemed to be fading at the time.)

“Vampires are powerful, immortal and often glamorous,” Mark said. “I don’t think most of us feel like that. However, we see zombies, and that zombie is still wearing her uniform from work, and the zombie over there is wearing a tool belt and hardhat, and we see these reflections of us — ordinary citizens. Somehow, that makes them easier to relate to.”

Crystal Creamer, left, and friend
Maybe the fact that they’re such twisted reflections of our everyday friends and family is what is most frightening and fascinating about them. Like Crystal said, they are us, just with our morals switched off and our hunger turned up to 11.

The stories inevitably focus on a small group of people (which often dwindle to a lone survivor), which also works as a metaphor for our sense of isolation in the modern world. We connect electronically with so many more people than ever before, while at the same time connecting to fewer and fewer in the real world. It’s easy to begin thinking of those around us as faceless, soulless zombies.

As a fiction writer, I’ve found zombies to be fertile territory for storytelling. They make excellent metaphors for just about any massive, mindless groupthink you want to apply (insert your own political joke here), and they’re guaranteed to break any writer’s block.

Hit a wall in your writing? Add a zombie. They’re like literary bacon.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Book Trailer: The Book of Gabriel

My friend, Lou Columbus, a videographer, writer and audio story narrator, created this trailer for my most recent novel, "The Book of Gabriel: An Endtimes Fable."

He used footage from this shoot on the shore of St. Andrew Bay, as well as found footage, and a photograph of Marisa, on whom I based the personality and image of the angel Joy; the text shown on the background of each scene is taken from the book and corresponds in some way to the scenes being depicted. I think he did a great job.

I hope you'll watch the trailer (1 minute) and check out the book, which is available in trade paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.

It's the story of Gabriel Jones, a man at the end of his rope who finds himself drafted into a celestial war, fighting fallen angels and heavenly hosts on the side of Shekinah, the female aspect of God. They take some advice from Cain, the first murderer, who lives outside of Eden Gardens State Park. Borrow a ride from Elijah, who likes cars with flames on the side. Meet the Watchers who hover in the night sky over Gulf Breeze.

Dream of new lives in other worlds, and awake to find them true. Step through a door into the torture rooms of Hell, and walk the wilderness with Lilith, first wife of Adam. Stand on the edge of the world, part the sea, and raise the light of hope in a world where Lucifer is lord of all.

Under the moon and the Milky Way

Photo by Andrew Wardlow
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Walking under a full moon last weekend, I listened to oak limbs creaking, the hiss of leaves shuffling in a breeze, and tried to convince myself there was more happening in the dark.

That the trees were shifting to keep an eye on me as I walked. That something lurked unseen among the limbs or in the utter blackness under the gnarled branches.

It didn’t work.

I know the woods around my house, sparse as they are, host foxes, deer, rabbits and coyotes, snakes and squirrels and other beasties. I have seen a hawk glide over the trees, and a large horned owl perched atop a pine, and I have heard the call of a lonely whippoorwill in the night.

But I have not felt the chill of fright on those empty streets, walking under the vast open dome of the Milky Way, or seeing the landscape light up in shades of blue as clouds parted for the moon. I have not feared the unseen creatures in the wild, or even the ones in my over-active imagination.

I wasn’t always so assured in the night. As a child, I hated going into my back yard after sunset. My family lived on the southern boundary of a small town, with a few acres of woodland surrounding the house. I was convinced something supernatural and predatory walked behind the fence at night; I heard it moving when I went out to feed our dog, or on evenings Mom asked me to bring in laundry from the clothesline.

It followed me on nighttime walks with my older cousins near my grandparents’ home. Or so they would tell me, weaving ghost stories and legends as the moon trailed us in the sky and noises carried from the trees lining the road.

It lurked on the corner, just outside the cone of light from the street lamp. It hid in the bushes beside the bedroom window, waiting for me to look outside so it could reveal itself. It never did, except one evening when we were moving into our home (I was 7) and my uncle (13 years old) snuck up to the window to scare me silly.

Even as an adult, I have felt my hackles rise from some unseen but nonetheless sensed danger in the dark. Because I have also learned to trust my instincts, I make it a rule not to remain in places or situations that cause me to feel uneasy.

But that hasn’t been the case of late. Maybe there are enough real-world dangers that imagined ones don’t register any more. Maybe I have put aside the childish fears of youth, or exorcised them through my writing.

But more likely, I think, I have merely recognized that I’m where I need to be for this time, and that includes a bit of walking under the light of the moon, in the narrow lane between the deep shadows, where leaves rustle and something unseen goes bump in the night.

(This is my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald this week.) 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Authors to present secrets behind scary stories

Lou Columbus reads at Writers Gallery
PANAMA CITY — The stories were ghostly and ghastly at Chez Amavida on Tuesday.

Among them, Lynn Wallace told of the fearful zombies hiding from costumed children on Halloween, Wayne Garrett told a spooky story of a traveler on a rainy bayou, and Lou Columbus related what happens when someone gets fed up with Facebook posts.

From their tales in the new ghost story anthology, “Between There,” Anthony Buoni read aloud a tale of haunted and hated pet, and Ruth Corley read the opening section of a story of ghostly vengeance. I read part of a tale of Jack Kerouac facing the zombie plague on the road in 1953, from my new collection, “Tales of the Awakening Dead.”

But the storytelling is far from over for the season. A more scholarly approach will take place Oct. 25 at the Bay County Public Library in Panama City, as three local authors explore the nature of evil in literature — and try to drum up support for “Friends of the Library.”

Michael Goldcraft, Ann Marie Knapp and Carl Lee, members of the Panama City chapter of the Florida Writers Association, will present talks on vampire legends and literary trends, the nature of menace as a literary effect, and other secrets of writing horror tales. Each will give four short talks over the course of the afternoon and read excerpts from their books.

Presentations start at the top of each hour — noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. — and end with about 15 minutes to chat with audience members and possibly sign books. No hour is the same.

“The objective is to support the Friends of the Bay County Library by trying to invite more people to become ‘Friends of the Library’ by buying memberships at this presentation,” Goldcraft said. Memberships are $10 for individuals, $20 for families, $100 for patrons and $200 for corporations.

Here’s a peek at their presentations:

Michael Goldcraft
l Goldcraft (a pen name for Michael Brim) will discuss the creation of his horror works, including the short story collection “Thirteen Tales of Eclectic Evil,” and his “Dark Lyfe Trilogy” — “Ascent of Evil,” “Inherited Evil,” and “Arcanum of Evil.”

Ann Marie Knapp
l Knapp (the pen name for Dr. Kelley Kline) will discuss “The Myth of the Vampire,” “The Modern Fictional Vampire.” “The Concept of Menace” and “Murder Most Maddening.” She’ll start with a focus on the etiology of the vampire myth from Sumer in 4000 BC to the legendary acts of Vlad the Impaler, which set the stage for Bram Stoker’s depiction of Dracula.

Her second talk will focus on the dramatic shift from vampires as antagonists to protagonists with the groundbreaking release of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” (1976). Her latter sessions will cover homicide, menace in literature, and include excerpts from her book, “Ascent of the Immortal.”

l Lee’s four sessions will be based on “the four M’s” of horror writing. Three are being kept secret, but one is “Menace.” Self-described as a lifelong lover of science fiction and horror writing, Lee is currently in the final stretch of finishing his debut novel, “The Voice in My Head,” while working to complete his psychology degree at FSU-Panama City.

“The definition for ‘menace’ is a person or thing that is likely to cause harm,” Lee said. “After all, the most memorable killers captured within the pages of a good horror book have exuded menace in varying degrees. Take Hannibal Lector, Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula as examples.”

Lee added that sometimes fear can permeate an entire novel as a faceless, discorporate dread, giving the Harry Potter series as an example.

“From the very beginning, (Voldemort’s) presence runs throughout the plot’s entire tapestry like a storm cloud threatening to rain,” Lee said. “But he never regains his actual body until the end of book four. Up until that point, his menace is conveyed through hushed whispers and talk of dark deeds.”

Like ghost stories told in the black of night.



Thursday, October 10, 2013

In defense of zombies

Me, Zombified
Zombies scare me.

I don't know why, exactly. Maybe it's the idea that they are us, just with our morals switched off and our hunger turned to 11.

Maybe it's the idea that they can't be reasoned with (insert your favorite political joke here), or that they never tire, they never stop, and it seems like they come out of nowhere by the multitudes.

Maybe it's the overwhelming dread of a worldwide plague turning the planet into a dead zone where the slightest noise or a change in the direction the breeze blows can mean death.

I seldom have nightmares about zombies. I generally recall my dreams in detail, and my really bad dreams are usually about demons. (Don't even get me started.)

Then one night I dreamed that I was a zombie. I "woke up" in the middle of a feeding frenzy, at first frightened and confused by the walking corpses all around me and the prey they were devouring, and suddenly a weird calm came over me.

My new e-book of short stories
I realized what I was and why the horde wasn't trying to attack me. I was just like them. And I realized that was okay with me (in this dream, at least) — knowing what I was, I could deal with that. (I've tried to decipher the psychological implications of this dream. In fact, I'm writing a book to deal with them.)

But see:  There was a sense of personal freedom that set in once I realized that my continued existence had been made so simple. There were no worries, because the worst had already happened. All I had to do was feed myself, and the rest of the world could go to hell.

Like I said, I'm working this out: That's where the opening scene of my new novel takes place — as an undead man "awakens" (becomes self-aware) in the middle of an afternoon snack he's sharing with another undead man. (You can read this opening scene in my new ebook, "Tales of the Awakening Dead," only 99 cents on Kindle!)

I spent last year's NaNoWriMo exploring what happens next — a simple thing, as the man recognizes that the food stocks are being depleted while the number of predators rises. That won't do, of course, so he has to find a way to reduce the feeders and fatten the prey and ensure a steady supply of "This Mortal Flesh."

The trailer video for Tales of the Awakening Dead

As I wrote in the introduction to 'Tales of the Awakening Dead,' there's some cultural backlash already rising that indicates people think the zombie apocalypse is played out as a source for storytelling. That's being floated out there at a time when "The Walking Dead" is a hit comic book and a super-hit TV series. (It returns for its fourth season Sunday, and AMC is now developing a spin-off series to fill the seasonal hiatus next summer.)
The Walking Dead Season Four Trailer

So obviously, there are still plenty of stories to tell.

Myself, I write about zombies for a variety of reasons beyond my own desire to understand my dreamstates. One, they make excellent metaphors for just about any massive, mindless groupthink you want to apply. Two, you can set up different rules for how the creatures multiply and how they operate (can they speak? do they run or shamble? does only a bite spread infection?). Three, exploring how your human characters relate to one another and the zombies in such an environment reveals so many things about the human condition.

But an added bonus, and probably most importantly: You can tell any story in this framework. When it comes to human relationships, action/adventure, or even buddy cop stories, zombies are like bacon — they can make any story better.

Don't believe me? Next time you're writing and you hit a wall, and you don't know what happens next, have a zombie come through the window. Instant writer's block solvent.


Thoughts? Refutations? Please comment!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

‘Between There’ features ghostly tales

PANAMA CITY — A young deputy trying to make a name for himself opens a cold case and is visited on Halloween by a restless spirit as he answers a call to Econfina Creek.

Homeless men witness a murder while hanging out under Hathaway Bridge.

Two supernatural creatures are involved in a paranormal investigation of Bay County’s Tram Road.

Those are descriptions of “Cold Case” by Ruth Corley, “The Dog Watch” by Mark Boss, and “Elusive Prey” by Anthony S. Buoni, three of 13 frightening tales in the new anthology, “Between There” Vol. 2.

Such ghostly stories will be on tap Tuesday evening at Chez Amavida in Panama City, which is hosting the launch party for “Between There” in conjunction with Writers Gallery, the monthly open mic gathering for local writers. Books will be for sale, and everyone will be invited to play haunted bingo for door prizes. Costumes are encouraged.

“The coffee shop has been home to the Writers’ Gallery meetings on the third Tuesday of each month, allowing local authors a stage for sharing their work,” Buoni said. “This month’s meeting will not only let writers read their material, but will showcase several authors featured in the anthology, reading and signing copies of the book.”

Buoni describes himself as “a haunted writer” living in Panama City Beach whose work has been featured in magazines, noir anthologies and his own local underground ’zine “the meow.” In addition to writing, he is a musician, father and ghost hunter.

“Between There” Vol. 2, , released by Pulpwood Press, features the work of regional and national writers exploring what happens when departed souls intrude upon everyday lives. Ranging from mystery and horror to philosophy and erotica, the book showcases short stories, flash fiction, campfire yarns and a screenplay that brings readers not quite to the realm of Death, but somewhere between here and there.

Many of the writers involved are from Bay County. Joining Buoni, Corley and Boss are N. Wayne Garrett, Conrad Young, Brittany Lamoureux, Kyle Clements, Angela Apperson and Joseph Davis. Others include Autumn Lishky from Oklahoma, Dee Jordan from Mobile, Ala., and Jacqueline Seewald, previously nominated for a Nebula Award for her short story, “Touched by Wonder.”

Mark Boss at left, Ruth Corley at right
 (Full disclosure: I’m part of a writing critique group that includes Boss and Corley (see photo at left for the whole group posing with author Tim Dorsey), and one of my short stories appeared in the first volume of “Between There.” I’m also a regular participant at Writers Gallery.)

Corley is a fiction writer in addition to her job as public information specialist with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. The two interests led her down a surprising trail as she wrote “Cold Case.”

“I love to hear the stories of the ‘old days’ in law enforcement here in Bay County,” she said. “A friend told me how the top floor of the old Old Jail (before what we now refer to as the Old Jail/BCSO Office was built, which used to be next to the Court House) was considered haunted. … I thought I would use that bit of folklore in a story and set it back in 1990, when both buildings were used simultaneously. Oh, to make it even creepier, the county morgue was housed in the basement of the old Old Jail, which also gave the building a unique ambience.”

Boss, a freelance editor and author of thrillers, said his inspiration came from multiple sources.

“The title has a double meaning,” he said. “It refers to a dog they see, and it’s also the nautical term for the short watches on a ship that take place between 4 to 6 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. I drew on the excellent work our local Association of St. Jude does in helping the homeless, and combined that with a scary location. The stuff about the dog and the murder, I made up.”

Corley said her characters often surprise her as she’s in the process of writing.

And that bodes well for a book about things that go bump in the night.

(Rest in) Peace. 


What: Release party for ghost story anthology ‘Between There’; books for sale; play haunted bingo for door prizes; costumes encouraged
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15
Where: Chez Amavida, 2997 W. 10th St., Panama City

(This is my column for and The News Herald this week.)

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Speaking to strangers...

River Jordan speaks at Palms Conference Center
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Laughter initially filled the Palms Conference Center on Wednesday afternoon as author River Jordan took the stage to tell her stories. Soon enough, however, the deeper truth of those stories began to sink in as River led the luncheon audience to understand how the lives of strangers are intertwined.

“Sometimes the life chooses you,” she said. “You don’t choose the life.”

River, the author of “Praying for Strangers,” is a Panama City native now based in Nashville. She spoke at the fundraiser to benefit the Panama City Rescue Mission’s Bethel Village program for women and children, which is working to purchase new mattresses for the shelter, with the help of The Sleep Center in Panama City.

“So many of us think of prayer as a bedtime activity, as we prepare for sleep,” said Cathy Byrd, director of the Women and Family Ministries for the Mission. “So this is a nice tie-in with our campaign. River shows us we can pray anywhere, anytime, for anyone.”

(For more details on the fundraising effort, visit

Fran, River and Leah (mom)
River, who wore a necklace marked “Dream” on Wednesday, is a natural storyteller. She says she was “discovered” as a writer by a sixth grade teacher. She considers herself a novelist — she’s currently working on a new novel about “bourbon, bullets and broads” — and never intended to write a nonfiction book.

Clearly, as she says, she also never wants to be “trapped in the box” that people might want to imagine for her.

I first met River when she was executive director of the Gulf Coast Children’s Advocacy Center in Panama City. In her spare time, she was working on a novel that became her debut, “The Gin Girl.” Since then, she has published another three novels and two non-fiction books, including “Praying for Strangers.”

River started praying for strangers in 2009, as her sons were deployed to the Middle East and she realized she was selfishly praying for their safety. Instead, she vowed to pray for the strangers she met each day. She never meant to tell any of them that she prayed for them, and she never expected to know how her prayers might be received.

“It was never about anything except God’s love and blessings and perfect peace,” she said. “That they be loved, they be warm, that they be fed, or whatever (their need) may be.”

Me and River
But then she felt led to tell a woman in a bus stop that she had prayed for her, and the story that poured out of the woman inspired River to begin writing down what she learned through the year. Others shared stories with her, and she discovered that praying for people she didn’t even know was blessing her own life in unexpected ways.

“I don’t ‘look’ at the people in that moment,” she said. “I ‘behold’ them. I don’t judge them. I see them.”

And isn’t that, essentially, the prayer of everyone?

This is my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald this week.