Monday, August 22, 2016

BEHOLD: BLOOD, SWEAT, AND FEARS -- Horror Inspired by the 1970s!

Last November, I woke in the darkness from a dream whose intensity had me grabbing for the small notebook and pen I keep in the top drawer of my nightstand. In it, I was a kid again, growing up in the wilds of then-rural Windham, New Hampshire during the 1970s. In this version, a sort of parallel universe, we were living through the second big energy crisis. Lack of gasoline meant we were on our own, an island from the rest of the world that summer. During one dark, eclipsed night, a Russian fighter jet tore across our small house and exploded over the lake. While all of our neighbors scrambled to find the pilot, I alone, sitting in the dark staring out, heard the approach of footsteps. Two, I was sure. Only then an enormous dog plodded in from the direction of the lake, through the brook in our backyard, walking on four. This beast of a dog fooled everyone around me, but not me -- I knew that it wasn't really a dog, but the Russian pilot, because I'd heard it walking on two legs. The dog was an experiment in genetic manipulation and shape-shifting; and hadn't the Russians sent up a dog in Sputnik II? All of this played out in the dream, along with the title: "The Night Stalker," an intentional nod to one of my favorite TV shows from that long lost time.

The very next morning, I put pen to paper, and had half of my story written down. I read it at writers' group and got great reactions from my fellow scribes, and soon dashed off a finished first draft. I believe I was channeling the whole 70s vibe, because I'd recently read about a call for Blood, Sweat. and Fears: Horror Inspired by the 1970s by the fine folks at Nosetouch Press. I did my edits, liking what I had -- the whole 'devil dog/hound from Hell' motif was rampant during that period (even Carl Kolchak faced off against one, in the guise of Tom Skerritt of Alien fame) -- and sent it in. Publishers and editors David T. Neal and Christine M. Scott accepted "The Night Stalker" on its first foray into the world, and it now appears within the covers of an amazingly groovy anthology unlike any other.

Many of my talented co-authors and the editorial team shared the back-stories behind their stories in Blood, Sweat, and Fears, along with the project's unique genesis and design.

Daniel S. Duvall on "Vivid Vinyl Visions": "My short story would not exist if not for Blood, Sweat, and Fears.  After I read the Nosetouch Press call for submissions for this anthology, I knew I wanted to be a part of what promised to be a hip, groovy book, so I spent a couple of days brainstorming potential concepts.  I kept circling back to the notion of a magic record album that induces visions of the past or future depending on which side one plays.  I visualized the protagonist, who is a much better bassist than I will ever be, receiving this LP from someone who appears to be a homeless fiddler, and then I asked myself who the vagrant really was.  The structure of the plot evolved naturally once I figured out the bum's true nature. I won't go into spoilers except to reveal that ‘Vivid Vinyl Visions’ begins on the 10th of April in 1978, a day which in reality was indeed unseasonably hot in my native Northeast Ohio.  I wrote the story in December of 2015, and I'm eager for this particular tale to find an audience.  I encourage you to read it by the light of a Lava Lamp."

Eric Turowski on "Sacred Death": "CONFIDENTIAL: For use by Northern California Law Enforcement Agencies only. B.O.L.O. for Theodore Irons, AKA Tire Iron, former president, Visigoths OMC. FBI TEN MOST WANTED FUGITIVE: Unlawful flight to avoid prosecution-- multiple ritual homicides, ADW (motorcycle drive chain) on law enforcement officials, conspiracy to transport Class A substances, racketeering, subversion. LAST SEEN: San Francisco, Calif., Haight-Ashbury District Oct. 28, 1973. CAUTION: Irons is sought in connection with occult crimes, consider armed and extremely dangerous.

There isn’t enough energetic low fantasy available these days. So, consider: an urban barbarian, a feud between latter day sorcerers, the saint of death, a plot to disguise and distribute marijuana, brutal brawls with modern monsters, beautiful babes in mini-dresses, demonic possession, drug possession --‘Sacred Death’ could only happen in the ‘70s, man."

David J. Fielding on "The Bar Guest": "I wrote my story after reading the story call and mulling over ideas and ways to tell a spooky story in a 70’s setting. Having grown up as a young teen/teenager in the time period, I have vivid memories of what the time period was like and I tried to incorporate those memories and that 70’s vibe -- leather jackets, the ever present cigarette smoke, brick buildings, etc. -- into the story. I wanted to convey the gritty modern street level version of police detectives I remember from film and TV of the time. I also wanted to try and capture the supernatural tone that permeated the 70’s as well, that feeling that the shadows were filled with dark and devilish things."

Tiffany Morris on "Day of Ascension": "My story was drawn from numerous sources of inspiration and areas of personal morbid fascination. These include the spine-chilling recording of the Jonestown massacre (which I’ve consequently listened to more often than is recommendable), old episodes of Coast to Coast AM, and an off-putting religious program my husband regularly picks up on his shortwave radio (we’ve nicknamed the host ‘Crazy Uncle Police State’). Some aspects of the story also adhere more closely to reality than others; pilot Jeffrey Collis’ experience in “Day of Ascension” is directly inspired by UFO sightings that have been reported by pilots. These elements factored into my desire to play with form and to experiment with writing a horror story in radio transcript format. As for the 1970s: I’d heard a lot about life growing up in the ‘70s from my mother, but came to know that behind her own nostalgic stories were things like the prevalence of cults and serial killers, oil shortages, and a renaissance in horror cinema. The twin forces of hope and dread are prevalent in any era of human history, but a setting like the 1970s allows for a lot of room to explore how it can all go awry."

Trent Roman on "Decrepitude": "I missed the 70s by a few years. The media from the 70s I was exposed to growing up, the music and the movies, had given me the impression that it was a carefree, party-on decade; imagine my surprise when, a little older now, I read the actual history of this turbulent time: the crime and the corruption, the gas lines and the economy grinding down. So it seemed like a perfect fit for a story like ‘Decrepitude.’ Years of the daily commute started me thinking about the concept of a cursed subway station -- an unusually modern and public location for a haunting. In turn, the setting seemed to demand a story about the decay that lies underneath the surface-- of our cities, of a decade, of ourselves. The 70s, with its sense of things running out, running down, the entropic decline of civilization, was the ideal context for the story."

John Linwood Grant on "A Stranger Passing Through": "I had the dubious pleasure of being there in the seventies, and also have two series of tales which pass through that period -- The Last Edwardian and Revenant. It struck me that the measured disquiet of my Last Edwardian supernatural tales would be less fun than the Revenant, so I went with the latter. It could have been a much longer story -- the city of New York back then was bright and dark at the same time, with hard-edged politics and massive corruption. It seemed only natural that as my contemplative hero (or anti-hero) wandered America, avoiding what he had left behind him in the UK, he would pass through the Big Apple. But I wanted an extra twist, and so for once he forgets himself and does something a little different. I only regret that I couldn't have made more of the music and fashions of the period, which I still remember as having a horror all of their own. The Returned Man does himself return in other tales, before and after A Stranger Passing Through, but in the meantime my Last Edwardian beckons, with a very different set of protagonists."

John McCallum Swain on "The Sweet Dark": "'The Sweet Dark’ is set in a fictional town inspired by my years growing up in Petawawa, 100 miles north of Ottawa, Canada. My Kitchissippi Tales are what I like to think of as homespun darkness, stories that invoke the wonders and horrors that life presented to a kid in a small town, before the world was connected by the internet. The 70s was a magical time, a time of change and wonder, a time of suspicion and fear, a time that fostered paranoia and hope. As I said in another Kitchissippi Tale set in that time, ‘We didn’t have the entire world at our fingertips. What we had was reruns, the public library and endless woods; the truths and the lies our parents told us to enlighten and protect us; the utter bullshit our older siblings fed us just to screw with our heads; and the grapevine of communal childhood information that was part mythology and part hearsay, all of it distorted by the lenses of wonder, inexperience, fantasy and fear.’ Stories like ‘The Sweet Dark’ come from that time and place, and I have many more tales to tell."

Christine M. Scott on Blood, Sweat, and Fears' design: "There were many directions I could have gone while designing the 70s-inspired cover for Blood, Sweat, and Fears. I wanted to project the feelings of dread and menace, without using cliché and sensationalized imagery. The best design route led me ‘home.’ The quiet aftermath of a murderous home intrusion taps into most everyone’s psyche. 70s interiors were dreadful to begin with, and with the addition of the intruder’s shadow, I achieved the sense of lurking fear that I was going for. The rest of the book, as well as the marketing materials, were designed to closely replicate 70s advertising. Graphic design was a different animal back then. Everything was typesetting machines, Rubylith, stat cameras, and paste-up. I studied design at the dawn of the Mac age, but I was still taught the traditional methods. I used that knowledge combined with modern methods to capture the vibe of the 70s in tangible form. It sets the mood for the reader, and subtly reinforces the impact of the stories Blood, Sweat, and Fears contains. As a lover of history and culture, I had a groovy time designing this book. I hope readers dig it -- the stories, the style -- the whole far-out package!"

David T. Neal on why the 1970s: "The anthology idea came to me out of my memories of growing up in the 1970s, just how creepy everything seemed, that 70s vibe. There was always a prevailing sense of dread that hung like smog over that decade, and I wanted to capture that spirit in this anthology, while resisting the temptation of overt hack-and-slash. We chose very carefully among a ton of great contributions, wanting to harness various aspects of 70s-style horror themes in stories that were strong on their own merits. We went with 10 stories as an informal nod to the decade, itself (although these stories aren’t tied to a particular year, conceptually, we ran with that). For so many born after the 1970s, that decade boils down to a few ideas-- terrorism, environmental issues, serial killers, cults, disco, funk, feminism, Watergate, punk, paranoia, polyester -- and we wanted to distill that down to a pure, powerful essence. We couldn’t cover all of the bases in only ten stories, but we were very particular about what we wanted to include: it wasn’t going to be chainsaws and ice picks, but a subtler, groovier, more dreadful horror lurking in the corner of one’s eye, which always feels scarier, anyway."

Thursday, August 11, 2016

FORCE FIVE: A Return to Boyhood -- Complete with Giant Robots!

On a Monday afternoon in the autumn of 1980, my best friend Tina and I were huddled in front of her living room TV set, watching the 3:00 showing of our beloved anime series, Star Blazers. Tina and I had bonded not only over a love of that exceptional show (starring my dear friend, THE Amy Howard Wilson), but also our shared revelations that we were both writers. Tina wrote poetry, and remains one of my two favorite poets of all time, sharing top billing with Edgar Allen Poe. While supposed to be doing homework, we wrote and watched Star Blazers after school. At 3:30, a second episode was scheduled to follow. But, to our shock, a different show had usurped its spot. What we saw unfold was the first episode of something called Danguard Ace, the opening salvo of a series referred to as Force Five. Force Five brought together five separate Japanese animated adventures, most involving giant robots -- a different adventure each weekday. Mondays featured the aforementioned Danguard Ace, Tuesdays was Starvengers, Thursday was Grandizer, Friday the magnificent Gaiking. On Wednesdays, the focus shifted from giant robots to The Spaceketeers, about three cyborg warriors defending a princess on her quest to save the galaxy from a mysterious and deadly force.

Our initial reaction to Force Five was one of resentment -- as much as I'd always loved giant robots, the show cost us that second half-hour of Star Blazers. It also seemed somewhat lowbrow, even to my fifteen-year-old mentality, with robot pilots shouting out whatever action they were about to initiate -- "Dizer kick!" for instance, whenever Grandizer's Orion Quest planned to, you guessed it, kick at one of Vega the Strong's Saucer Animal enemy super robots. But as the weeks transitioned from autumn to winter, we got hooked. In April, I wrote a Gaiking fan fiction. Soon after, following a terrifying dream, I penned another. In October of 1981, I wrote "Promete Achieved", a Danguard Ace tale about the Danguard team long-last making its objective: reaching the Planet Promete, a satisfying conclusion denied us by the TV show. Over the course of my lifetime, I would pen six Force Five fan fics in all -- three Gaiking, two Danguard Ace, and one Starvengers. In the summer of 1982, at the age of seventeen, while bored and sweltering in the merciless heat, I moseyed into the garage and dreamed up a massive Force Five storyline that would unite all five universes. Its note card went into my catalog of unwritten ideas under the title "Endangered Mankind", and there it remained until May 9th of 2016.

Armed with a fresh pad of lined paper, a fountain pen with a full cartridge of ink, and a massive binder from the late 1990s, when I printed up all the technical specs and character write-ups on the show from a fan site no longer in existence, I started with Chapter One: "Monday" -- in which the Danguard Ace team faces their enemy, the malevolent Krell Corps, who are determined to reach Promete first. Then, I transitioned to Chapter Two: "Tuesday", giving the Starvengers their due against sworn enemies, the Pandemonium Empire. At the conclusion of both chapters, the super robots have mysteriously vanished, along with an equal number of their robotic foes. "Wednesday" shifted focus to the universe of Princess Aurora and her Spaceketeers, who have been dispatched to locate and stop emanations from the mysterious Dekos System that are causing mutations to animal and vegetable lifeforms. As they near, the energy waves prove too strong even for Aurora's cyborg defenders, hence the need to bring in allies able to survive Dekos. The four giant robots, each endowed with a temporary intelligence made possible by interactions with their human pilots, champion the cause, taking the fight to Dekos, where the sinister mastermind behind the mutations has been collecting a giant robot army of his own.

There was something supremely satisfying about returning to that wacky universe -- a story from so long ago, long last given its time to be written. But it was also beyond fun. I found myself eager to return to that world to play, and remembered as the heroes approached Dekos and the dark forces waiting for them there why I'd fallen so in love with the franchise back in the day. For the very first time, I wrote about Grandizer and The Spaceketeers -- the latter my least favorite of the five, though in this tale Aurora and company became the central crux behind the other four's mission. Writing "Endangered Mankind" in the background while working to other deadlines for paying and professional markets was a return to my youth. The story swelled to something epic, as I'd always known it would, even back in my seventeenth summer. By early July and the start of summer NaNoWriMo, I saw its long-dreamed conclusion, finally within sight as the robots stopped the broadcast of the mutation energy and returned from Dekos victorious.

On the first Sunday NaNo write-in, when members of our writers' group gathered in our living room to work on their July projects, I began the final chapter: "Saturday", which seemed an appropriate sendoff, and a fitting nod to all those Friday Gaiking cliffhangers from the day. I completed "Endangered Mankind" in a blur as my pen raced toward the ending, and fresh sheets flew off the notepad. Ninety-two pages long, my return to the Force Five universe for one final adventure was like a trip through time to the best days of my boyhood, and a great deal of fun to experience as I write on through my fifty-first year!