The process of adoption and the issues it can carry can be difficult to the point of becoming emotionally scarring. After all, those who have been adopted had to have been given up by their birth parents in the point of life where a child would need them the most. Abandonment issues can fester and increase during the course of a lifetime, enough so that they can become consuming and lead to self-destructive behavior. These are the issues Dan Foley wrestles with in his new novel, ABANDONED.

For James Sutton, his whole childhood was a series of family and friends discarding him; from the shady legal transition from his biological parents to his adoptive folks to his best friend moving away and severing all ties with him to his first real love dumping him and moving on. With the death of his adoptive mom and the subsequent suicide of his adoptive dad, James loses his grip with sanity and builds a wall between himself and the rest of the world. And with an abandoned pair of eyeglasses appearing one day, he transitions into a chaotic world of empathizing with inanimate objects and drawing revenge on the living souls who would so carelessly discard them.

And in the process, James becomes a collector of the most macabre prizes.

When James’s biological mother hires a private detective to track her estranged son after a thirty year absence in his life, the die is cast in one of the strangest criminal cases Connecticut has ever seen, and James will have to decide if he can live a life of reconciliation with his mother and biological sisters, or whether he remains loyal to the body parts he keeps in jars…his family of abandoned misfits.

I found Dan Foley’s Abandoned to be a deliciously macabre dark comedy that serves as a reminder of just how close we all can be to the brink of insanity. There’s always that point where one can just snap, and once that happens it isn’t likely we’re ever coming back. Foley’s masterful wit and morbid imagination make this book feel like a forbidden peek behind the curtain of insanity…tickling your funny bone and giving you goose bumps at the same time.

Karma came full circle last night, and all I got was this lousy moment of Schadenfreude.

I’m not feeling too good about myself right now. I had a bit of a discovery that I can be a severe asshole; both in my shortsightedness and my sanctimonious smugness, and that puts me on the Wheel of Karma as much as it did to the person I happened to come across, whom I’d blamed for something that I’d felt wronged me.

This is going back to June of 2012. With my debut novel a few short weeks away, I was scurrying through Portland trying to find a bookstore willing to host a release party and perhaps carry my novel, with the understanding that I would be publishing more books in the future and wanted an ersatz home front for future publications. I picked a particular book store in the heart of downtown Portland, with a reputation for promoting local authors, and paid them a visit.

The store owner wasn’t there, so when I went inside I was forced to deal with one of the counter jockeys. I explained who I was and dropped off a packet of information, including my bio, a list of previous publishing credentials, contact information for my publisher, and a letter explaining what I’d hoped to accomplish with their store. The clerk assured me that my information would be passed on to the right people, and I thought everything was in place where I’d wanted it to be.

Only, nothing happened. My book reached its release date with zero party or fanfare. My books never graced their shelves. And a part of me felt completely worthless, wondering if it was ME or if it was because I write HORROR, or because (as I’d been told only a few short weeks before by a curator of the New York State Writers Institute), “We reserve THAT for more established writers”. It did a number on my self confidence, and left me feeling that little bookstores like the one I’d been dealing with was totally fucking elitist, pretentious bluster that literary wannabes jack off to when not waxing poetic in their marbleized notebooks. And that bookstore hadn’t been the only one, either. I got the runaround from quiet a few places. Which led me to build a mental list of those folks who supported me way back at my beginning, and those who wanted nothing to do with me.

Only, I gave this particular store the benefit of the doubt, and two months after my book was released I sent them an email, reminding them that I’d dropped off my little packet of information and was still hoping they would carry my book. This store failed to reply to my email as well.

So, fuck ’em.

Three years later…

A coworker of mine pulled me aside and pointed out one of the new temp workers. An older fellow with reading glasses that he often lifted up over his scalp when he wasn’t trying to read the addresses on the packages we sort on our automated machinery. She told me that this man may be of interest to me, as he used to run a bookstore out in Portland. Only, it seems that this man and his business partner have had to close their store (for unmentionable reasons), and now this fellow is an underling to me, wanting to learn the ropes and perhaps make this his new steady-paying gig.

Holy Fuck!

Imagine that…The guy who ran the store that wanted nothing to do with me is now without a store. Gee whiz, break out the sad trombone and play that motherfucker a fanfare. That’s gotta be the worst thing I’ve ever heard. NOT!

Yes, I was that big of an asshole.

I really, really delighted in this poor dude’s hard times, as if Karma really DOES exist and that it was playing out strictly for my satisfaction. I gloated. I reveled. I replayed in my brain the anguish of just how crappy that store made me feel by simply choosing to ignore my existence. In my mind I was ready to treat this human being like garbage; to ignore requests for help and direction and possibly find a way to screw him right out of a job. Because you don’t fuck with ME. I paid my dues, buddy. Now you can pay yours.

That’s not me. That’s not the human being I want to be. I didn’t burn bridges the first time around, when my book failed to make it into his store. I didn’t drop notes to all my friends saying, “Fuck this guy and his business. He doesn’t want to help us unknown authors.” I didn’t harass his employees or mistreat anyone because I was hurt. I simply went on with my life and tried to learn what lessons I could from it. And even now, after my little round of butt-sore gloating, I don’t want to be that guy. I didn’t tell him who I was or rub it in his face for not helping me, or try to sabotage his chances for employment. And I’m not going to. Because now that my little moment of Schadenfreude has worn off, I see a bigger picture. I see ME on that wheel, wanting to stay humble and polite and not giving into the temptation of being a colossal prick. I’m sad they chose not to cooperate and support me, but that was their choice. And for all I know, this guy probably never even saw the packet I left with the clerk at the register. For all I know, she tossed it into the trash and forgot all about it. And for all I know, the email I sent could have went to his spam folder, never to be given a second thought. Whatever the circumstances, I don’t care. My book did just fine without appearing in his store. And even if it had, the remaindered copies would have been sent back to the publisher anyway.

I’m ashamed that I let it get to me, even briefly, that I should delight in what this guy is going through. It contradicts everything I try to preach in social media as well as my personal philosophies. It sucks that we lost another bookstore; one that was very popular and vital to the arts community of our great state. It hurts other local authors, who are trying to gain success and, like myself, have their works read and enjoyed. And on a human level, I hate for anyone to struggle and fail. The world would be a better place if we stopped rejoicing in others’ failures and acting as if life was one big contest.

I behaved badly, but at least I saw the light and am trying to do better. I won’t burn bridges, especially the ones that might lead to new friendships.

I won’t vie for a worse spot on the Wheel of Karma.

I’ll just keep spinning for now, and wait for something more meaningful.


20 Years ago this week I wrote a letter to Stephen King.

I remember it as if it was only yesterday; a 23-year-old version of me sitting in a studio apartment in Portland, Maine, writing a letter out on my then-fiancé’s Sony word processor on my kitchen/dining room table to the King of Horror.  Back then I had no computer, and correspondence was still through snail-mail.  That was how the world still worked in 1995; manuscripts were printed out and sent to the world of publishing, where they would fall into a slush-pile until they could be read by some poor dope in an editorial gig who would either deem the work worthy enough to be short-listed or sent back to the author outright in a manila self-addressed envelope with a form rejection letter.  I used to keep a file for all my rejection letters, as did a lot of other writers I knew back then, but after crossing into the world of publishing success that all became an archaic ritual that lost any meaning…a kind of totem or milestone or talisman for self-loathing or indignant motivation, depending on one’s point of view.  For most of us in the horror genre, rejection letters are the epitome of documenting our progress.  In retrospect, I’ve been turned down by some of the best in the business; Gordon Van Gelder (alas), Darrel Schwietzer, Richard Chizmar (who actually took the time to send a personalized note reading “Almost…Send us more stuff!”), and on and on.  These were the guys who were on the cutting edge of speculative fiction, and to get any kind of feedback from them was a phenomenal blast of motivation.

As for the King of Horror…

When I moved to Maine, I was already a life-long fan of Stephen King.  I discovered his work though his novel THE STAND back in eighth grade, and upon moving to Maine I felt a part of me wanted to be like the King of Horror and see if I could be a writer, myself.  In high school I’d always been in Advance Placement English classes (since junior-high, to be specific), and had always shown an aptitude for disseminating grammar and syntax and picking apart stories to discover themes and tropes and plotlines and character arcs.  I’d always loved reading books.  It came as natural to me as breathing air and tying my shoelaces.  The problem was that I never considered for even a moment (even all through college), that I had any talent or worthwhile ambition to become a writer.  It never occurred to me that writing was something that I could do as a hobby or as an integral part of expressing my own inner mantra within the arts.  I’ve always loved horror, but expressed it through my love of the cinema in the hope that I might one day work in Hollywood as a special-effects artist or something toward that capacity.  And Stephen King had by then made his mark on the film industry, giving us celluloid nightmares in the forms of CARRIE, THE SHINING, CHILDREN OF THE CORN, and plenty of other films.

Ah, but back in 1995…just one quick year after I’d graduated from the University at Albany and had abandoned life as I knew it back in Albany, New York for a new one in the creepy heart of New England…In the world of authors like Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, and of course, Stephen King.  New England holds the heart and the soul of the New World, where children were accused of witchcraft and hanged back in Salem and where the Puritanical heart of our nation was offered up as sacrifice to a new and better way of life in the name of science and progress.  Could there have been a more conflicted region of our ancestry?  I look back at those early years with both pride and repulsion.   In my lonely studio flat in Portland I taught myself how to be a writer.  I learned through a vicious curve of trial and rejection that writing as an art form was the equivalent of baring your soul to strangers so that they could piss all over it at leisure.  Nobody owed you anything, and your form of art was to do at your own risk.  For every writer like myself, I’m sure there are countless others that gave up and moved on to less-fulfilling prospects in terms of careers and life in general.  This shit ain’t easy.  Period.

But back then I was ambitious.  And stubborn.  And in love with the notion that I had an inkling of talent and had something worthwhile to say through my fiction and I stuck with it.  Back then, upon entering my new world in Maine, I began working on my first full-length novel called TOUR ONE; a book featuring a vampire that worked in MY job at the POSTAL SERVICE, where the antagonist had access to the public at large through knowing what mail people were receiving.  It’s easy to trace where people are in their lives based on what mail they receive.  For instance, a citizen getting letters from the AARP, hospital bills, legal documents, etc…you know either they or their loved one is an old person waiting to die.  How easy would it be for a vampire to segregate those people, murder them, and make their death look like an accident?  That was the basis of my first book; a novel that is poorly written and executed and will most likely never see the light of day.

At the time, though, I was really into writing it, really enjoying what I was doing, and decided to write my mentor, the Master of Horror Stephen King a letter, thanking him for his influence and letting him know I was trying to carry on the tradition.

I wrote a seven-page letter to Mr. King.  In it I introduced myself and told him my whole biography and thanked him for his books, his undying inspiration, and for giving me hope in a world of publishing that would eventually kick me in the nuts at every opportunity.  What I remember most from that letter was telling Mr. King that I had just killed off my very first character and how that almost felt empowering to me, considering that the notion of violence to me was something detestable and inhumane.  In that letter I gushed like an idiot fan-boy and told Mr. King what thousands of other authors like myself had already told him; that he was the reason I was doing what I was doing, and THANK YOU FOR IT!

I even mailed my letter in a certified envelope, thinking that King would have to sign for it, so at least I would get his autograph in recompense for my effort.  It never occurred to me that he would have a courier service get his mail, or that his assistant, Marsha DeFillipo, would be the person replying to my letter.

I got a form letter, telling me that Mr. King no longer answers his mail, as that through sheer volume it would leave him virtually no time to write his fiction.  Fucking imagine that!  As for the certified return-receipt card?  Some strange dude who probably has moved on from fetching the mail for the great Stephen King (or died of old age, for all I know).  I threw that one away as soon as it hit my mailbox.

In the past twenty years, I’ve met dozens of authors like myself, wanting to be the next Stephen King.  They’ve all come and gone with little or no fanfare whatsoever.  Many just gave up on the dream, or gave up on themselves and the prospect of fame and fortune.  I can’t blame any of them.  This gig is a fucking heartbreaker to say the least.  For every ten people I know who gave up outright, I’ve encountered one or two who are in it for the long-haul and have managed to build a career in an industry where big-press publishing is going the way of the dinosaur.  And even now, the men and women who are dominating the horror scene still get neither the recognition nor the success of Stephen King. In the tumultuous world of horror writing, the world responds by saying things like, “I don’t read HORROR because it upsets me!”  And yet, they still buy and read Stephen King.


To answer that one, all you need to do is pick up his latest book, FINDERS KEEPERS, and start reading.  King’s writing is fucking brilliant.  Period.  Within the first chapter, I was hooked.  Just like every other book the man has written.

And that’s the joy and despair of reading King’s work.  It’s loving what he wrote and knowing, “my writing will never be THIS good.”  It’s the same way I felt about REVIVAL. And DUMA KEY.  And BAG OF BONES. And so on and so on.

There’s a reason people call him the KING OF HORROR.  He just fucking IS.

In terms of my own career…I never gave up.  I’m currently writing my sixth book, titled THE GOAT PARADE, and I still enjoy what I do, whether people read it or not.  And whether Mr. King reads it or not.  I’ve found that I’ve given up on King ever discovering my work and giving it high praise, and that’s okay.  I’ve been lucky as hell that through the five books I’ve already put out, I’ve received mostly high praise and congratulations.  People seem to enjoy what I write, and that is all the motivation I need anymore.  I’m not chasing the prospect of having my writing be my primary source of income, but I’ve made a name for myself, and that’s a start.  I don’t have it in me to be as prolific and successful as King, and that’s fine.  I don’t have to worry about losing my anonymity or being inundated by unwanted fan mail to the point that it disrupts my life.  I don’t have to answer for an entire genre or put myself in the way of unwanted criticism, and I find myself thankful for that.  I’ve learned a hell of a lot since I wrote that letter back in 1995, and life is good.

And yet…

And yet I would still be thrilled with approval from the Master of Horror that my work has merit.  That I wrote something that impressed him or scared him or made him change his thinking about the world around him.  I’d want him to know that I’m grateful for all that I’ve learned from him, and for all those hours of reading he provided that entertained me and shaped my life.  I’d still want him to know that I’ve benefitted from his work, and that I’m indebted to him for it, and that he’s been my biggest influence.  That’s how humanity is supposed to work; that it has the grace to acknowledge those who paved the way before us so that we can continue the journey and persevere.  If my fiction is ever revered and remembered in the course of literature, it’s because of Stephen King’s indelible fingerprints and inspiration.

I just thought that the King of Horror should know that.  And I think he does, as he just received the Medal of Arts from the President of the United States.

Even if you never read this…Thank you, Mr. King.  Thank you.  The world is a better place from your being in it.


I want to tell you about Mrs. H.

From my earliest recollection, my parents were very close friends with George and Sylvia Hoyer, the couple that lived down the street from us back in the house where I grew up.  When I was very young (probably around four years old), I can remember the Hoyers coming up to our house to play cards with Mom and Dad, while the youngest of their daughters Carrie and Cindy (fraternal twins) played toys with my older brother Joe and I.  I can recall hearing the grownups laughing as they played cards down in the kitchen, which was kind of a big deal since my dad was very antisocial and rarely invited people into our home.  But Mr. and Mrs. H were cool people; he was the first person that I can remember that owned a motorcycle (and we’re tip-toeing here, the memory of a four-year-old don’t amount to a hill of beans in this big, crazy world…or something like that. For all I know, that memory is totally bogus), and she was the hilarious mom that all the kids on the block seemed to gravitate toward.

The Hoyer household was always an open-invitation thing.  If you showed up, you were invited in.  If you were hungry, you were probably fed.  It was always a special occasion when Mrs. H made her homemade chili.  She’d even go so far as to call our house and invite us down to get some.  Joe loved her chili, and would hightail it out the door as soon as he hung up the phone.  I was still too young to appreciate spicy foods, but I can remember the smile on his face when he’d walk back through our kitchen door carrying a Tupperware container of her finest cooking, his smile still coated with grease stains from the bowl he’d already eaten down in their kitchen before returning to our house.

The eldest Hoyer daughter, Tracy, was our first babysitter.  I was too young to remember it, other than from stories I’ve heard from my mom, but I do remember that she once dated a guy that was a magician, and on one stormy evening we were invited down to the Hoyer house for a magic show.  To a little kid, magic is about the coolest thing ever, and it was a huge deal to me to be a part of that day.  We sat in the dining room and watched as coins disappeared and connected rings were impossibly pulled apart and cards were miraculously placed into the deck and then appeared in our pockets.  Mrs. H watched all of this contentedly from the doorway, chuckling at how naïve we children could be.

Mrs. H was a teaser.  I remember that she used to refer to me as “Neat Pete from up the Street”.  I was a painfully shy kid, and I remember feeling hurt and angry whenever she called me that.  But even that was better than the nickname “Willy Lump Lump”, which she called my kid brother, William, who always had lumps and bruises from over-activity.  Will was a bit of a mischievous kid, and for some reason I seem to recall that he dropped a camera into a fish tank down at the Hoyer house.  Even Mr. H would have fun at Will’s expense.  He’d  tell my brother to pull on his ear, and then with the first remote control I can remember seeing, he’d change the station behind Will’s back, making my brother think he had some crazy super power. Mrs. H would watch and laugh to hysterics every time.

As I’ve mentioned, we spent a lot of time down at the Hoyer house.  I remember listening to records up in the twins’ bedroom (the song “Right Back Where We Started From” jumps immediately to mind), and swimming in their pool on hot summer days, even though we owned our own pool.  Carrie and Cindy were the same age as my older brother, and they tended to bond and hang out together.  I was the dorky younger brother, and was often told that I wasn’t allowed to hang out with them.  I can still remember the frustration of Joe calling me “The Tag-Along Kid”, and telling me to go find something else to do.  In those times, the second Hoyer daughter, Julie, took pity on me and played games with me so that I wasn’t lonely.  Julie later on became a hair-stylist for awhile, and often cut my dad’s hair for him.  It’s crazy to even think about it now, but of all the times I’ve looked at my father and thought he was handsome, it was after Julie styled his hair for him.  Julie came to my dad’s memorial service, had in fact brought Sylvia with her to the wake, and seeing the two of them brought back memories, love, and gratitude.  Mr. H had passed away years before, and I’d been aware of it, but never really had the chance to process it all and express my sympathy.  Mrs. H was  brought in with an oxygen line running fresh air in a tube to her sinuses, but she was as lively and funny as I’d ever known her.  She managed to joke with my mom about some of the guests that came to dad’s wake, which made me laugh in spite of all the sadness.  She also complimented me on my own family, which she’d gotten to know through Facebook.  She’d taken the time to read my blog posts concerning both of my daughters and made it a point to compliment me on my writing.

As I’ve mentioned, we spent a lot of time down in the Hoyer house.  On one occasion, there was a tornado watch in the Albany area.  I seem to recall my mother telling us that Mrs. H was afraid of tornadoes as she rounded my brothers and I up and hurried us down the block to join the Hoyer girls down in the basement, where we spent the afternoon waiting for a rogue storm that never did more than thunder a bit and drop tiny hailstones.   I have no idea if she was really nervous or not, but she kept our spirits up and kept us laughing all afternoon.  It strikes me that every now and then I can hear a weather report and my mind can jump so clearly back to that day.  Even now, at the sound of a tornado watch, I find myself wondering if Mrs. H is down in her basement.

I could tell you about the Halloween she showed up at our house dressed like a plumber with a 70s porn mustache, or how she’d roll her eyes whenever she caught us ogling her daughters as we grew older and their swimsuits grew smaller.  I could tell you that we loved her like a second mother, as did every other child on our block.  I could tell you that childhood is a reflection in the mirror of the soul, and Mrs. H was a burning star that shined bright enough to keep those reflections alive for me, even after all these years. She will be missed, and forever be remembered fondly.

Thank you, Sylvia.  Rest in Peace.

Neat Pete From Up The Street.

I fell in love with Harper Lee back in 8th grade. Well, not exactly the author, herself, but with her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Her novel may very well be my favorite book of all time, and that is an enormous feat considering all the genres and styles of literature I’ve read over the years. To this day I can still recall how I fell in love with Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, her brother Jem, and her stoic, impossibly upright father Atticus (perhaps the greatest father archetype ever in literature). Lee’s tale was perfectly layered in the pathos of coming-of-age awkwardness, social injustice, parental mythology, racial prejudices, and razor-sharp southern acerbic wit, and it has become a mainstay in English literature classes throughout America, in spite of those who would ban it from course curriculum.

After Lee published the book and it became a success, she became a bit of a recluse, and never published another book afterward. Until this year, when the news was broken that a new manuscript had been uncovered…one Lee had written BEFORE “Mockingbird”. With this revelation, a whirlwind of speculation and insinuations followed, as to whether Lee was coerced into publishing this new manuscript by the custodians of her estate or if she was even interested in publishing. Others claimed that this was just a moment of opportunism, as America has once again fallen into a quagmire of racial strife and discord, and the book’s release coincided a bit too perfectly. Many people suggested that Lee had already raised the bar too high for herself with the success of her first novel, and this was perhaps the worst kind of exploitation of an elderly literary master. Regardless, when it was announced that GO SET A WATCHMAN would be published in July, I found myself among the ranks of those burning to read it, to find out whatever became of Jean Louise and the Finch family.

When I began reading, I was shocked and disheartened to discover that the POV had jumped from the beautifully elaborate first-person narrative of “Mockingbird” to third-person omniscient, thus removing a great deal of the intimacy that made Lee’s first book so relatable and captivating. With a 26-year-old Jean Louise leaving her new home and cosmopolitan lifestyle in New York City to visit her aging and arthritic father Atticus back home in Maycomb, Alabama, we find ourselves reentering familiar ground of southern living and caste system society that she escaped upon adulthood. We learn that her older brother Jeremey “Jem” Finch died a few years earlier, and that her childhood friend/first crush Henry “Hank” Clinton has found a mentor and father-figure in Atticus. And as the train rolls into Maycomb Junction, an unsettling darkness in the form of deepening racist tensions has spread like a blanket over the land she calls “home” and where her roots are permanently sewn.

When Jean Louise discovers that Atticus and Hank are playing an active role countering the activities of the NAACP and working to protect Maycomb against the progress of desegregation, everything she knows and understands about her family and the father she has grown to idolize falls into an uncomfortable demystification process; one that leaves her recounting her childhood and events in her formative years that had led to establish her uncompromising understanding of equality and “color-blindness”.

Having written this work before “Mockingbird”, it’s very easy to pick out where the continuity issues fail to hold up. For starters, the case against Tom Robinson (in this book), led to an acquittal…due to the fact that Tom was not only disfigured but had in fact lost his good arm completely while working in a sawmill. There were several other flaws, but these were trifles that did not hinder my reading of the book, and once the story really kicked into gear, I forgot all about the fact that it wasn’t a first-person narrative. In fact, this book really could not have succeeded in that POV, as we (the readers) are on a learning curve that happens simultaneously with Jean Louise. This is crucial by the time we get to the climax of the story. Where “Mockingbird” is concerned with a courtroom trial drama, “Watchman” is concerned with a personal trial Jean Louise is holding against her father, and the torment it brings to her internally.

Where Lee’s writing shines most of all is in the vignettes that reference events of Scout’s earlier (post-Boo Radley/Bob Ewell) years. Fans like myself who were hoping for more glimpses of Scout’s childhood friends like Dill and Boo, and even the Ewell family will be disappointed. Dill is mentioned in passing, but plays no part in the evolving tale of Scout’s return to Maycomb. At least Jem is mentioned, and the capers that Jean Louise shared with her brother and the younger version of Henry Clinton, and those moments (just like the first book) are filled with the hilarious awkwardness that made Scout such an endearing character in “Mockingbird”.

In terms of prose and syntax, there are moments when Lee tediously presents too much information about the history of the Finch family and goes into tangents in her characterizations, but even that is a forgivable crime. It shows her unfailing desire to represent her literary family completely, and if this manuscript did in fact precede her masterpiece in “Mockingbird”, then this book serves her well in establishing the growth she made in perfecting her craft.

Most of all, Lee’s piercing wit shines through in her writing. There are moments that I found myself laughing out loud in how the book’s scandalous southern events unfold, in the biting sarcasm and sardonic put-downs hurled between characters, and how marvelously playful Lee gets in bringing her characters to life. She is a writer of extraordinary and enviable talent, and to hear people putting this book down reconfirms for me that the literary cognoscenti are a petty, quacking lot concerned more for their learnedness and stature than they are about giving a book a fair chance. Had Lee not written perhaps the greatest book of the 20th Century, I suspect their reviews would be kinder and more embracing. Perhaps “Watchman” isn’t a masterpiece in its own right but it’s still a damn good read and a satisfying glimpse into the later years of Scout and Atticus Finch.

I found myself in love with literature once again, and the 8th grader in me reveled in it.

I think I made a discovery tonight about life in general.  I’m realizing that by the time you reach 40, you’ve come to know exactly what is important to you and what is all just frivolous bullshit.  And those things that ARE important to you, the things with meaning and significance and keep your life on kilter so that you can deal with all that other bullshit?  Well, you’ll defend it until your dying breath.  That’s where I’m at right now with “Deflate Gate”.  What set me off tonight?  I read yet ANOTHER essay from a hater, this time declaring the Patriots to be cheaters because, statistically, the players drop the ball less frequently when they play as Patriots versus when they play on other teams.  The evidence is irrefutable because numbers don’t lie!

The Patriots have to be the most hated team in the NFL.  I think it’s because (unlike the haters will say, with their conspiracy theories and their bullshit) they’re so goddamn good.  You can’t trash-talk the Patriots because they will only make you look like a mealy-mouthed imbecile.  They win games.  Period.  They’re coached on philosophies contradictory to most other NFL teams.  They don’t allow fan-worship or treatment for their star players.  They don’t thank God or Jesus in heaven for their victories.  Hell, they don’t even spend a lot of time marveling over just how awesome they are.  No, coach Bill Belichick drills into their heads from the beginning of the season all the way up to the Super Bowl that victory comes from playing as a team, and by “eliminating bad football.”  The Patriots players are forced to watch videos of their mistakes to learn what they do wrong, and work on how to improve so those same mistakes aren’t made again on the field.  And when those mistakes persist, those players get benched.

In short, from day one, they learn the fine art of Mental Toughness.

And haters just fucking hate that shit.  Why?  Because their own teams tend to choke under pressure.  Or they try to rely on star players over the cohesive structure of the team itself.  And, almost always, they underestimate the Patriots.

There is nothing about Deflate Gate that adds up.  None of it.  From the time Bob Kravitz broke the story (Bob Who?  Until this new conspiracy, I’d never even heard of the guy) that a “source” reported to him that Colts player D’Qwell Jackson complained to Indy coach Chuck Pagano that a ball he’d just intercepted from Tom Brady felt “light”.  The chain of events afterward had Pagano bringing this “light” ball to the attention of the referees.  And by the end of the game, an investigation was launched.

Jackson has already come clean, openly admitting that he never even noticed that the ball felt “light”, more or less complained to Pagano about it.

But the refs took it seriously, and so did the NFL commission.  Because by that time, Kravitz’s story had gone live around the world, and once again the Patriots are guilty-until-proven-innocent cheaters.

You can’t trash-talk the Patriots.  You can only assassinate their character.

But…but…they have a history of cheating!  Remember Spy Gate?

Jesus Christ!  A history of cheating because they got fined nearly a decade ago, for what almost every team was doing?  Really?  Hey, didja ever notice on the boob tube during the game, when the coach (any coach) is calling a play, he usually covers his mouth with a clip board or a play book or a sweaty towel?  Because they’ve been doing that for as long as I can remember watching football.  It has nothing to do with the Patriots.  The Pats were merely a league sacrifice, a shamed example set by the commission to discourage the practice of play telecasting.  And in reality, if a football team has any modicum of talent, they will be able to read the defense and make adjustments, or have a backup plan ready to go.  Spy Gate was overblown to the point of ridiculous, and declaring one team as being life-long cheaters because they were penalized once for it is completely false logic.  It’s a grasping straw for haters to scratch their loser itch with.

But…but…How do you explain 11 of the 12 Patriots footballs used in the Indy game being underinflated?  Indy’s balls were okay!

I’ve spent the past week watching Deflate Gate unravel and find myself more and more annoyed.  11 of the 12 balls underinflated.  How does that happen?  Yeah, Belichick held his press conference on Saturday to disclose his own personal investigation of the matter, and was irritatingly compared to Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Belichick revealed that he experimented with the factors and conditions that were analogous to last Sunday’s game and concluded that temperature and atmospheric pressure as well as normal handling by the players accounted for enough of a significant decrease in air psi to explain the deflation.  He stood up and gave a thoughtful, rational explanation when it wasn’t even necessary and he did it in the face of character assassination from continued haters and ridicule from the rest of the nation.  In response, none other than Bill Nye stepped up to refute this, originally with inflated balloons and later on a segment from Funny or Die with real footballs.  It was funny and cutesy and lacked the part of the equation about normal ball handling from the players.  Nye never brought up guys like 300+ lb. linebacker Vincent Wilfork falling on the ball and smooshing it between himself and frozen, rock-hard turf.  And that’s only one example.  Even when not on the field, balls are thrown and kicked on the sidelines as players warm up.  Nor did Nye point out that, perhaps, the Colts kept their balls near the turbo-heaters that keep players warm on the sidelines (keeping the balls warm would also aid in ball control.  Warm balls don’t hurt as much when they hit your hands).  Nor did Nye bring up the point of “risk management statistics”, which would require one to actually ponder why 11 out of 12 balls were underinflated.  Why 11?  If the Patriots WERE actually cheating, common sense alone would tell you to only risk underinflating 2 or 3 balls, and only bring them out if you NEEDED to.  But let’s skip all that and point out what most of us with rational, critical-thinking minds already know:  You couldn’t fucking tell the difference between a regulation-inflated football and an underinflated ball anyway.   Especially in 40-degree weather and your hands are half frozen.  You’d think they way haters carry on about it, the Patriots glued Velcro strips on the balls and their hands.

But…but…The team ball-boy disappeared with the balls prior to the game when he took them into a bathroom!

Yeah, his ninety second pit stop to take a leak was all the time he needed to go through 24 footballs, pull out the Patriots’ balls only and deflate ELEVEN of them to exactly the same psi.  Brilliant.  Genius!  And completely, utterly ridiculous.  But it’s something to keep the conspiracy alive, so there’s that.


But NOTHING.  You have zero evidence that specifically concludes with Belichick, Brady, or ANY of the Patriots doing something to intentionally deflate the footballs.   And as far as responding to the original allegation in the essay concerning player statistics (the one about players fumbling less when they play on Belichick’s team), I replied to the original thread that it is explained by the fact that Belichick benches players with ball control issues, thus giving them less opportunity to fumble, and those issues get dealt with off the field.  The players work on improving during practice.  They work on “eliminating bad football”.  Apparently some of them go back to playing bad football when moving on to other teams.

And, unsurprisingly, the haters continued with improbable, unprovable accusations.

Whatever.  Have fun with the conspiracies.  I’ll be busy watching the Pats crush the Sea Hawks under the scrutiny of a million wishful microscopes.  Especially Bill Nye’s.  And Bob Kravitz’s.  In case you haven’t checked out his columns or tweets lately, he’s already backpedaling and changing his stance on the issue.  And why shouldn’t he?  His fame came from riding Belichick’s coattails.


Who says hauntings can only occur in creepy old houses?

Dan Foley’s book Intruder is a first-class ghost tale that places the terror fathoms below the ice-cold depths of the Atlantic Ocean.  The crew of the nuclear-powered USS Hancock has picked up an unlikely (and horrific) stowaway in the phantom of the late U-boat officer Gerhard Küehn, who is driven by rage at the Americans after the destruction of his own vessel.  And once aboard the naval submarine, the ghost isn’t just content on making his presence known; he means to continue World War II where he’d left it at his death.

Foley, a career Navy sailor, expertly takes us aboard his ship with stunning, claustrophobic detail.  His characters are extremely human; from the locker room-type antics between the sailors when not on duty to the precision functioning of a seasoned crew (including the newbies, still green from their training) in the performance of their jobs in a pressure-packed iron fortress with no place for escape.  And that is what creates the heart of this thrill ride; a supernatural hostage situation at the hands of a merciless spirit, all while trying to conduct drills and avoid military opposition.  The story quickly becomes a race to figure out how to exorcise what haunts the Hancock before the ship and its crew are lost forever.  At times, the tension is deliciously unbearable and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.

I enjoyed this book tremendously.  As a fan of ghost stories, I fell instantly in love with Küehn as the story’s antagonist.  I also found myself laughing out loud at the humor Foley uses in balancing out the tale.  Intruder delivers everything a good book should, and left me feeling entertained and satisfied by the conclusion.  If you are a fan of ghostly tales, this one is not to be missed.

I want to tell you a true story.  It concerns my place of employment, and if you know me then you already know where I work.  We have clauses in our contract that disallow me from making disparaging comments about my employment in public forums, so for the sake of tonight’s essay, I will simply refer to my job as “The Job.”  Can you dig that?  Good.

I’ve been employed by “The Job” for over 21 years now…better than half my lifetime.  It pays well, and has provided my family with a roof over our heads and decent benefits.  The downside is that you’re forced to eat a lot of shit sandwiches over the years.  Some from management.  Some from fellow employees.  For me, it feels like I’ve never really left high school.  And that’s a drag because what could really have been an awesome job is instead a place where misery feeds on itself, and where the bitter people are only happy when they’re ruining someone else’s day.  Some people just can’t help embracing their inner ASSHOLES…which is why I’m ranting tonight.

Everyone has some ASSHOLE or other they have to work with.  I’ve had my share over the years…people that just can’t seem to play nice or that you just can’t seem to get along with. You just can’t think that everyone you meet is going to be on the same page with you.  You’re going to be disliked by a number of people through the course of your lifetime for whatever reason, and that’s fine.  I can tolerate those folks that I don’t like.  My philosophy hasn’t changed much over the years; if I like you, I will be sure to let you know you are important to me.  If I don’t like you, I won’t waste my time talking to you.  I won’t openly put you down or triangulate against you.  I’ll keep my distance and let you go on with your life with no intrusion whatsoever.  But some people just can’t offer that mutual tolerance.  No, they have to fuck with you.  ASSHOLES always like it when they can make it personal.

Let’s travel back in time, shall we?

Exactly 10 years ago, “The Job” was preparing to open our new facility in Scarborough.  We were allowed to visit the facility before it opened, and were given a tour of the workroom floor to get an overall view of how daily operations were supposed to be laid out, depending on which part of the building you were in.  A member of the building planning committee conducted a tour, and to this day I can remember how this person boasted vociferously about the size of the building, noting that three laps around the building’s inner perimeter equaled one mile, and that this was perfect for those people who wanted to walk during break time to get in some good exercise.

And every day, for the last ten years, SOMEBODY has made the effort to walk the perimeter to stay in shape.  That’s a lot of miles.  To give you a rough idea, one person walking laps every day (not including their vacation time), you’re talking 240 miles per year.  And there are some employees that are very dedicated to staying fit and healthy and making that walk.

Jump ahead to this past November, when I started having chest pains.

I was certain that my heart was in trouble.  Heart disease runs in my family, and to be bluntly honest, I’m a prime candidate.  Up until that point I was living a very unhealthy lifestyle.  Working the night shift, I’d developed a dependency to coffee, sugars, carbs and starches to stay awake and alert for “The Job” (and the ride to and from work, which actually puts me at a 12 hour day, not counting the time I spend with my daughter after Mrs. D. leaves for work and Viv gets on the bus).  Plus I was drinking too much alcohol and not getting enough exercise.  Upon my bout with ill health and the subsequent visits with my physician and the cardiologist, I had to make some changes to my lifestyle.  Part of that change was deciding to start walking the mile during my lunch break.

It only took 3 weeks before some ASSHOLE coworker decided to call the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to complain.  It appears that we “pedestrian” walkers are somehow interfering with the tow-motor and forklift operators and pose a safety hazard.

Mind you, when we moved into the new building 10 years ago, it was also pointed out that along the perimeter of the building, hemisphere mirrors were hung every fifty feet so that anyone in the lane cordoned off with yellow tape on the floor could have a 90 degree view ahead of them.  Likewise, all utility vehicles are equipped with functioning horns that operators are supposed to use when passing intersections and corners.  The risk of an accident is so minimal that any vehicle operator should feel like an idiot if they aren’t competent enough to follow regulations.

O.S.H.A., apparently, contacted “The Job” and threatened fines if the practice of pedestrian walking wasn’t curtailed immediately.

No onsite inspection.  No meeting with our unions to discuss the topic.  No conversation with the employees to gain critical insight and make an informed decision.  Nope.  Just a new mandate from the upper office.

Just like that.

This isn’t new.  Kneejerk reaction is how “The Job” operates.  Last year we had an incident that concerned the employees placing pictures on their lockers.  You see, a fellow employee (who happens to be gay), posted pictures of same-sex couples kissing on the outside of his locker.  Naturally, one ASSHOLE just happened to be offended by it and ran bitching and complaining to management.  Instead of rebuking said ASSHOLE for being an asshole, we were all punished with a mandate saying that NO artwork or photographs were permitted to be posted on our lockers.

Just like that.

So basically, we’re stuck with ASSHOLE coworkers, who always seem to get away with their petty, nonsensical bullshit, and get to pat themselves on the back with the smug, self-righteous adulation reserved for religious zealots and New York Yankees fans.  And we’re stuck with a management team being run with an abysmal lack of character.  It’s just one more thing “The Job” took away from us.

By the way…Since I’ve started walking and modifying my lifestyle, I’ve dropped 12 pounds and feel a lot better than I’ve felt in a long time.  Getting healthy has improved my mental health as much as my physical health; I no longer feel depressed and apathetic.  I really don’t give a damn what O.S.H.A. says…I don’t plan on giving up my walking anytime soon.  I’m willing to fight against this as long as it takes to win.

And as for you…the ASSHOLE who called to complain, I’m pretty sure I know who you are already.  The thing about assholes is that they can’t keep their fucktard mouths shut.  You just can’t help yourself.  You’ll gloat and laugh a bit too loud and in front of the wrong people, and eventually it will get back to me.  Then you and I are going to have a little face-to-face.


A review of THE PATCHWORK HOUSE by Richard Salter

I’ve always had a profound love and admiration for supernatural tales. It is the familiar waltz between fate and mortality with all its morbid trappings that really grips my fancy and sweeps me away. When they are done well, I am able to suspend disbelief as well as my penchant for picking the story apart to examine what works and what doesn’t. When they are done well I let the story engulf me, like the silk linens of a casket just before burial.

Richard Salter’s THE PATCHWORK HOUSE is extremely well done, and I found myself chilled to the bone upon reading the final words of his debut novel. My hat is off to him.

It is extremely difficult to develop new twists and original concepts when telling a proper haunted house story. You have the ubiquitous archetype of “The Bad Place” (the nesting grounds for “evil”, often fleshed out through personification, tone, and imagery), the “Ghost” (the transient spirit that unlocks the conflict of the story, or else is the conflict itself), and the “Living” (the protagonists, who generally are caught up in the subplot of unraveling the mystery of the haunting). Salter takes the elements and shakes them up into a clever and deeply disturbing story, and in doing so offers us a very original glimpse into the literary haunted house.

Jim Randal, the son of a successful English realtor, returns to his native land with his girlfriend Beth to conduct some business concerning Binsham Manor, a property which his father had just acquired after the passing of its final occupant. James calls upon his old childhood friend Derek and his wife Chloe to join them in examining the property, which has been rumored to be haunted. In their youth, James and Derek had both shared a fascination with hunting ghosts, and so the couple join Jim and Beth for a weekend of spook hunting. Only, Derek seems to have a chip on his shoulder, and we will later come to find out their friendship isn’t what Jim thought it was.

The quartet are met by Arthur, Binsham Manor’s caretaker, who lets them onto the grounds, and explains that the house is, indeed, haunted by three ghosts, and openly admits to having contact with them in one form or another, all the while assuring them that they are quite safe and have nothing to worry about.

But Binsham Manor is haunted by something darker and more insidious than just ghosts. The house itself appears to be cobbled together in different architectural styles from seemingly different eras. It gives the characters (and the reader) the uneasy feeling of something ominous and foreboding. For at the heart of the house is a truly inventive and disturbing piece of furniture that has the ability to isolate the inhabitants of the house and cast them into darkness and despair. It even has the ability to turn some of them into part of the house’s haunting.

Salter casts aside the quiet, elegant haunting for something truly gripping and visceral. There is a delicious sense of tension throughout the novel as Jim and Beth and Derek and Chloe race to uncover the mystery behind Binsham Manor and hopefully get through the night alive. The book is fast-paced, and drags you kicking and screaming into the true heart of malevolence that the archetype of “The Bad Place” aspires to take you. I found it to be the perfect, chilling thrill-ride as the hours of darkness continue to grow longer in the season. I loved it.

Great job, Richard!

I was asked by a friend to give my thoughts about the upcoming release of the latest snuff-fest videogame, “Hatred”. Nate Ward, one of the founding members of the Inked Geek Studios, had approached me about this, asking me if I had seen the now-viral video supporting this game, explaining that its premise is that the avatar for the game is a suicidal man in a trench coat (to see him instantly evokes painful memories of Columbine, with Klebold and Harris in their self-aggrandized “Trench Coat Mafia”.) arming himself to the teeth with weapons before going on a murder rampage. The premise is: how much destruction can one man do before he’s taken down? And that’s it. Period. No damsel in distress, waiting to be saved by some fantasy hero. No protect the planet from an alien invasion. No true sense of adventure or uplifting accomplishment. Just murder.

You can see the red flags, can’t you? Sure you can.

Let’s just break down the history of gaming, shall we?

With the advent of the late 70s and early 80s video games (Atari, etc.) the world was offered a new form of entertainment/activity…one that nearly signaled the death of the boardgame as we know it. 8-bit technology allowed us to become a new kind of gladiator; a participant that was now capable of traveling through the far reaches of space in tiny, triangular rocket ships or race automobiles in high-stakes competition. Many of the early games were based on contests that required developed hand-eye coordination, with sports-based themes where you were your own adversary (Break-Out, Pong, etc.). They were fun, but offered limited thrills or elements of the fantastic like their role-playing-game cousins did with Dungeons and Dragons. Eventually, game creators began tapping into that same vein, and began developing games that contained fully-realized adventures.

Those early games relied heavily on what Joseph Campbell would have considered the mythology of The Quest, or The Hero’s Journey. Granted, in the early days, that quest was nothing more than how many pellets of food Pac Man could eat before the ghosts got him. Or protecting your planetary home base before the alien invasion destroyed you and the planet. Still, there was a palpable conflict of Good Vs. Evil, and the player was always on the side of Good. Mario, the barrel-jumping plumber, was forever a Knight from the Kingdom of Chivalry, forever trying to save the princess from crazed apes and hammer-throwing turtles. Dig Dug was a warrior in the name of nature, trying to preserve his garden from crop-destroying creatures. No matter what 8-bit avatar suited you, you were constantly trying to reach a specific goal or destination, and the baddies of the videogame world were trying to stop you.

There was always an element of violence and death involved. For every quarter you pumped into a machine, you were given 3 lives, and the game didn’t end until all those lives were destroyed. You had somebody dropping barrels on you. Or shooting laser beams. Or trying to eat you. But the violence was always cartoonish and goofy, and never left you feeling anything deeper than a level of frustration. Even the sports related games like Karate Champ or Punch-Out were devised as nothing more than contests, and were not meant to suggest that you wanted to kill your opponent. The thing was, in those old arcade games, the violence was justified. If you shot or attacked an opponent, it was for the sake of self-preservation. And, it was consistent with the metaphor of standing up to those that would bully you. There was actually a sense of empowerment in cannibalizing the ghosts in Pac Man or blasting away alien creatures and rogue villains. For a lot of people (including myself), many of those old games were cathartic and uplifting. Sometimes, a videogame was the best quarter ever spent.

And that is the key to the enjoyment of videogames: They take you from the realm of voyeur to that of the active participant. They place you deep into that fantasy world, and give you the chance of being the hero you’d always dreamed of being. It’s fun. It’s empowering. And it’s often addictive.

The paradigm of the gaming world changed sometime around the release of the game “Doom”. This one is a shoot-em-up game where you are put into first-person perspective and soldiering through a maze of rooms and corridors where other people are hunting you down and trying to kill you. This game harkened the elevation in realistically portrayed violence, and sought to place you in the adrenaline-soaked world of the combat situation. You were still the “good guy”, but the goal of The Quest was diminished. Your primary incentive was, basically, to stay alive. In short, the creators were removing the goal (the conclusion of The Quest) for the sake of amping up the realism of the game. When they started doing that, the notion of Good Vs. Evil slowly became muddied. After all, war is based on a conflict where both sides believe they are fighting on the side of Good.

Jump cut to the present, where game creators in Europe are about to unleash “Hatred”.

I was asked to give my opinion on the game, and days after seeing the video clip and reading the article, I’m still on the fence as to how I feel about it. On the surface, I’m absolutely fucking appalled. Knowing full well that the purpose of videogames is to make the switch from voyeur to participant, one immediately disconnects videogames with the world of books and movies. The latter two also remain in the realm of the fantastic, and we can easily find bonds of empathy and emulation, but they also contain plot and conflict and resolution at the end of the story. The Quest is almost always fully realized, and the notions of Good Vs. Evil are always fully established. “Hatred” seems to run counter to everything within the paradigm of The Quest. There is no “Good” or “Evil”. There is no morality. There is no compassion. There exists only violence and mayhem.

Beyond that, there are human beings who are going to want to be participants, who are already frothing at the mouth, saying, “shut up and take my money!” as they wait for the game to be released.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I detest guns and am constantly advocating for better legislation. Right now, our society is on the crux of an epidemic of gun violence, and from a younger generation that is sorely lacking in parental attention and guidance, and believe the only way to find resolution to conflict is through violence first. On the same day that I watched the video premiere for “Hatred”, a school in Washington became the latest battleground for violent assault. Childhood is the LAST place where the concepts of “Good” and “Evil” should blur and become muddied. And the underlying question behind “Hatred” (or any other violent game) and its backlash becomes “Are violent videogames part of the problem?”

When Disneyland first opened their Pirates of the Caribbean attraction for its shakedown phase (its operation solely for the purpose of inspectors making sure the ride is safe and fit for the general public), there was an enormous fiasco concerning one particular scene of the ride. The scene where the port village has been set ablaze by the ruthless cut-throats was done so realistically that the fire inspector had to red-flag the ride, claiming that if there was ever a REAL fire, firefighters wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, and that was extremely dangerous. I think this notion segues perfectly with a great deal of what makes “Hatred” so problematic. Getting past the weakly defined goals of the game, you’re still left with the perverse nature of just how graphic and realistic the violence is portrayed. For me, in the video, when you get to the killer pushing his gun into the mouth of his victim (a woman who is pleading for her life) and pulls the trigger, my gut reaction was “This is obscene. This is too over-the-top. I can’t believe I’m watching this.”
Which makes me a hypocrite. And that is exactly what the game’s creator wanted. That’s his selling point for “Hatred.” He insists that it’s time for the world to take violence seriously again, and dammit-to-hell, he has a point. After all, as a writer and as a fan of horror movies, nothing that happens in this videogame is something that I haven’t seen before. Murder, torture, bloodshed. Even in my own stories, I’ve come up with some pretty gruesome, nasty shit. But if I may say so, we’re back to the notion where that violence is somehow justified, that it plays a pivotal role in the story I’m trying to tell. I have a responsibility to maintain a sense of honesty and fairness, though. I’m not going to create a character whose sole purpose of existence is to kill as many people as possible. Characters need motivation. They need backstory. The violence somehow NEEDS to be justified. And the reader needs to understand that they remain a voyeur only as the story unfolds. The story is NEVER about the reader, and the reader should NEVER take away anything from the story that leaves them feeling they are required to do anything further than putting the book down.

As a writer and book lover, I have a compulsion to fight against censorship, and that fight almost demands total commitment. There is no “halfway” in that battle; you can’t pick and choose which titles should be allowed or banned. It’s either all or nothing, because you’re arguing fundamental concepts. I find myself (horribly) defending the right of the makers of “Hatred” to create and release their game unto the public. They have the First Amendment to fall back on (which he does, even though this right is really secondary to that of his Right to Make Money), and game fans have a right to buy and play it if they so choose. Plain and simple. But just because they HAVE that right, that doesn’t make it RIGHT.

We can argue all day long that there are damaged, fragile people out there in this world; the kind that will eventually snap like a dry cracker and assault their school. We can also argue that even without video games to help muddy their conscience, they’ll find some other trigger to set them off. These kids are already time bombs waiting to blow up, and will probably find inspiration waiting for them in comic books, movies, and music. They are just dying to make that crossover, from voyeur to participant, and that is the reality we need to fix.

We need to stop blaming the games and start examining ourselves and our families. We need to worry less if “Hatred” is going to actually go up for sale here in America, and worry more as to why the kids in our nation would want to play it in the first place. If you don’t like the games that are available now, start learning how to create your own games; the ones where “Good” is still “Good” and “Evil” is still “Evil”, and your Quest is one that you can discern pride and satisfaction from.
Trying to ban games like “Hatred” is a losing battle, especially when the war is really about saving the conscience and lives of our children.