Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The neverending cycle of movie sequels

I loved Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Okay, maybe Indy is pushing 70, but did you see him climb those crates in that warehouse like a caffeinated monkey? Running from bad guys, riding motorcycles through the halls of academia, swinging from his whip and beating the crap out of of the villains - it just doesn't get any better. I hope to be in as good a shape as Ford when I'm 67.
But the point is, the movie rocked, in my opinion. Maybe the aliens were a bit cheesy, but seriously, is there an Indy movie that isn't? Isn't cheesiness the quality that makes it so much fun? Seriously, you can't take that stuff seriously.

That leads me to another sequel near and dear to my heart - The Chronicles of Riddick. Apparently not as popular as the original, Pitch Black, but a kick-ass movie nonetheless. I'm hoping for some more Riddick movies, which I believe are on the way. I expect it to be even better than the last. Vin is over 40 now, but he still looks like the schizzle.

I wouldn't mind it if they made another Laura Croft movie. I liked the first one best, but who gets tired of watching Angelina Jolie running around in skimpy outfits, shooting huge guns and kick-boxing bad guys in the teeth? Not me. There are two movies so far, and I'm voting for a third.

Just watched the new Star Trek again for the third time. I can't get enough of that movie and I hope there are many more to come. Putting the crew in an alternate universe on a different timeline from the original Trek was a stroke of genius. Now they can do anything and say, "Well, they're in an alternate universe, so we don't have to stick to the original story." The Trouble with Tribbles will never happen, though, and that's just a shame. But they all still ended up on the Enterprise. It's like it was meant to be, no matter which universe they're in. And maybe they can run into Khan again!

I wouldn't mind too much if George Lucas decided to go ahead and make a new series of Star Wars movies, with all the original cast in the future. They're all older now, so it would work. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher - I say bring 'em all back for three more movies. It would be awesome! Throw in some younger stars, of course, to appeal to the younger set. Come on George, what do you say?

I'm ready for some more sequels!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Review: Steve Alten's "Meg: Hell's Aquarium"

Miles below the crushing depths of the Philippine Sea, hidden beneath the crust of the Philippine Sea Plate, monsters dwell that should have died 65 million years ago. Luckily for us, they didn’t.
If you like your monsters big, mean and prehistoric, Steve Alten’s “Meg: Hell’s Aquarium” delivers the goods. It also effectively illustrates the point that there is always a bigger fish in the sea.

A follow up to Alten’s “Meg: Primal Waters,” Hell’s Aquarium continues the story of Jonas Taylor, the deep sea diver/ paleontologist who first discovered giant Megalodons, prehistoric cousins of the Great White Shark, on a top-secret dive to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean.

Taylor, the lone survivor of the doomed Navy expedition, is demonized and ridiculed for what he says he saw—until he becomes a paleontologist and manages to find one of the Megs again years later. The Meg follows Taylor to the surface and chaos ensues.
Taylor, along with his wife, Terry and daughter, Dani, is now running his own aquarium, the Tanaka Institute in California, with his own captured Megs—the 76-foot, 50-ton Angel and her brood of “pups,” Angelica, Lizzie, Mary Kate, Ashley and Belle.

The story begins with the Meg from Angel’s first litter, Scarface, becoming lunch for something much, much larger—a creature known as a pliosaur—one of a menagerie of prehistoric creatures that have been discovered to inhabit a vast sea beneath the Philippine Sea Plate. These creatures, it seems, who were once air breathers, have evolved gill slits, which enabled them to stay hidden and procreate all these millions of years.

Now, an Arab gentleman by the name of Fiesal Bin Rashidi, who also happens to be filthy rich and a relation of the Prince of Dubai, has built an enormous aquarium in Dubai, big enough to house these monsters from the deep. Who does he want to enlist to help capture these creatures? Not Jonas Taylor, as you would suspect, but his son, twenty-year-old David, who is home from college on summer vacation. David also happens to be an expert pilot of a new high-tech sub called a Manta Ray, which can withstand the tremendous pressures at the bottom of the Pacific.

David is enlisted, against the will of his father, to help train a team of pilots to dive deeper than any man (or woman) has ever gone before and lure these dangerous creatures into an array of awaiting nets. Unfortunately, once these pilots get down to a few thousand feet, they wig out because of the claustrophobic darkness and the very real possibility of becoming a snack for a sea serpent. It seems David and his newfound girlfriend, Kaylie, a navigator and pilot in her own right, are the only ones who are up to the task. But of course, all does not go as planned.

As if they didn’t have enough problems, it seems Jonas’ fish at the Tanaka Institute are becoming restless and the holding pens are becoming too small for the steadily growing Megs and their ginormous mother. An overzealous animal rights group (called R.A.W.) is also pushing the institute to release the Megs back into the wild and possess no scruples about their methods.

Well, I won’t give away the rest, but suffice it to say that the biggest showdown of all time eventually ensues.

A literary agent once told me that you shouldn’t have too much killing at the beginning of a horror book; you should build up to it. But since this is science fiction, I guess the rule doesn’t apply, and that’s great, because everyone wants to get to the part where the Megs start chowing down. Am I right? It does tend to get a bit graphic, but I don’t think there is really a non-graphic way to describe a giant fish eating people.

Even though Jonas is 66, I figure if Harrison Ford can still be Indiana Jones, then Jonas Taylor can still pilot a sub and tame a giant shark or two. I realize that David will probably eventually assume Jonas’ role just as Mutt will probably assume Indy’s role and Dirk Pitt, Jr. will assume the role of his father in Clive Cussler’s adventures.

One thing I love about Steve Alten is the research he does for his books. The man does have a Ph.D., so I assume he knows how to do research. I actually learn things when I read his books—Domain, Goliath, The Loch—just like I always did with Michael Crichton, one of my all-time favorite authors.

I’ve read pretty much all of Mr. Alten’s books and I can say unequivocally that this is his best yet. This book moves along at a great clip and has excellent character development. It’s not a throw-away, run-of-the-mill page-turner—it’s a book that will stand the test of time.

Now out in paperback at about 500 pages, Hell’s Aquarium features two different collectible covers and retails for $9.99.

Check out Steve's Web site at

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The soul of Frankenstein

I don't know if anyone has seen the movie FEAST, a direct-to-video gorefest starring Henry Rollins and directed by John Gulager, but it's actually pretty good for what it is - a gorefest. Basically, some people are trapped in a bar in some desert town in the midwest and are forced to fight for their lives against some inexplicable monsters who like to eat humans. There are also a couple of sequels, each one more bizarre than the last. The monsters are pretty convincing, the victims are pretty convincing, everything is pretty convincing.
But there's one thing that always bugs me about most modern horror movies like FEAST - there's no soul. I mean, sure, you get to see the humans fighting off the monsters while trying to maintain their humanity and hopefully win out in the end, but beyond that there's - well, nothing.
Here's an example. Frankenstein creates a monster. The monster comes to life, decides he wants to explore the world, and goes out in search of knowledge. Unfortunately, he doesn't look so hot and the townspeople misunderstand his intentions and ultimately come against him. The monster then goes on a rampage, causing even more misunderstanding and more misery.
In the meantime, we are feeling sorry for the monster, because, after all, did we not create him in the first place? There is some sympathy there, because we know that down inside, the monster doesn't see himself as a monster - he sees himself as a human.
I feel no sympathy for the monsters in FEAST - they're just monsters, one-dimensional and soulless. They simply kill and do...well, other things. The Frankenstein monster killed, too, but we also felt pity for him when he was being relentlessly hunted by angry villagers with torches and pitchfoks. Even though he couldn't talk, he was multi-dimensional and we could empathize with him.
How do you empathize with something that does nothing but kill? Think about other monsters like Dracula, or the Mummy, or the Wolfman, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or even Godzilla. We could empathize with all of these characters because we know that somewhere inside of them is a misunderstood being driven by circumstances beyond their control to do what they do.
That's the same way I wrote my book, DIABLERO. My monster is not just a killing machine - he has a heart and a soul and a battle going on inside that all of us as humans also have - the battle between good and evil.
That's why I like the classic monsters - the Mummy, the Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein - it seems like the monsters of today have lost their souls and have nothing to offer in the way of enlightenment, only entertainment.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Wisdom of Loons by Jeff Dennis

The funny thing about this book is that I don't usually read this kind of stuff. I stick with the action-oriented page-a-minute type of thrillers or classic sci-fi by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Heinlein or horror by H.P. Lovecraft or Rod Serling - you get the picture. This book really expanded my horizons.
To be honest, though, Jeff Dennis' "The Wisdom of Loons" is a lot like Serling - very Twilight Zone-ish. It's really a foray into a surrealist universe peopled by some very down-to-earth types - a guy who just wants to relax with his dog and go fishing, and a woman and her cantankerous father who just want to get away from it all for a while.
Enter Lake McDowell in the mountains of Georgia, where nothing is as it seems. The loons (birds that look like ducks but who can dive underwater like fish), play an integral part in the story of Cal Blevins and his would-be girlfriend, Lauren Talbot (no relation to the Wolfman, Lawrence Talbot - I asked), and Lauren's father, Edgar.
I like Cal because he plays guitar like me. That's how he meets Lauren - she hears him play and falls for him immediately. The same thing happened with my wife. Well, sort of. Anyway, Cal soon learns that Lauren's father had a stroke recently and is a little loony himself when it comes to loons. Edgar not only is obsessed with the birds, he starts making loud, obnoxious bird calls and driving poor Lauren nuts.
Cal tries teaching Edgar some guitar licks, which helps create humor to kind of balance out the ongoing tension between Edgar and Lauren.
But Edgar's obsession with the loons goes even deeper - so deep it becomes a mystical experience, such as when the birds fly over the mountain, five at a time, in a perfect "V" several times. What does it mean?
Lauren and Cal fall for each other hard and poor Edgar feels left out, going even further into his own little world, doing crazy things like trashing the cottage and wandering off at night into the forest to find loon eggs.
They even meet a few helpful Native Americans along the way, who live in the mountain and help them try to understand the ways of the loon.
Lauren and Cal see and experience a lot of weird, inexplicable things which at first don't make sense. But in the end, it all comes together in a memorable way.
And by memorable, I mean mind-blowing.
This book isn't Dean Koontz and it's not meant to be. It's a love story with supernatural elements that will jerk a few tears, produce a couple of guffaws and maybe even clean some of the cobwebs out of your brain.
Above all, though, it's just great storytelling, which is what every novel aspires to be. I highly recommend it, because "Loons" is a unique literary experience.
Check out "The Wisdom of Loons" by Jeff Dennis at

Friday, February 12, 2010

The creepiest horror writers

One way I judge a good horror novel is not always by how quickly the action keeps moving, but by how many times I check the locks on my doors and sleep with the light on. The master at that in the modern age is probably Stephen King. If you don't believe me, try reading "Salem's Lot" and then getting a good night's sleep. That is not what I consider an action book, but it is definitely horror. The creepy "Nosferatu" vampire guy and his assistant are enough to invade anyone's nightmares.

Bentley Little always manages to creep me out a good bit, as well, with his bizarre settings and even more bizarre monsters, e.g. the frizzy-haired Mogollon Monster of "The Return."
Edward Lee, too, with his mysterious, deserted island settings and slimy worm-like things that like to invade the human body and control the human brain.
There are lots of other creepy modern-day horror writers, too, like John Saul, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell - well, you get the idea.

But all of these writers were inspired by other writers that came before them, just as I was, and two of the most influential of them are Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. Those guys practically invented creepy.

Take, for example, The Tell-Tale Heart. The sound of the thumping heart, the milky-white eye of the old man, the way the beam of light shone on it just so, just enough to see the eye and nothing else. Then, the sound of the old man's heart beat - after he's been killed.
Or how about Montresor walling the poor Fortunato in the wine cellar? Talk about keeping the lights on!

H.P. Lovecraft's descriptions of the dark recesses of the cosmos and of beings so alien that any similarity to humans is non-existent, is some of the most disquieting reading ever. It's so slow it makes Stephen King's "IT" look like a roller coaster ride. But it's major creepy - you almost have to put the book down just to digest the weirdness of it all to continue reading. He's the guy that invented the "Cthuhlu Mythos" and the Necronomicon, or Book of the Dead and wrote for lots of pulp magazines in the 30s. The man was not much for dialogue - there's hardly any talking in any of his stories - but believe me, you never miss it. You're too busy getting creeped out by "The Whisperer in the Dark" or "The Colour Out of Space."

But there is one book that I have yet to read because it creeps me out so much I can't even get past the first page. It's by Shirley Jackson and it's called, "The Haunting of Hill House." Want to know why I haven't read it? Because I've never been able to get past the line, "...and whatever walks there, walks alone."
That, in my opinion, is one of the creepiest lines in all horror literature.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Classic vs. modern horror movie magazines

I grew up reading good old Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by the one and only Forrest Ackerman, who unfortunately passed away recently at 90 years old. He was one of the most dedicated people to fantastic cinema that ever was and his magazine showed it. Most all the photos in the magazine were his, and he even had his own movie museum in his house in California, called the "Ackermansion." Unfortunately, he was forced to sell most of it off because of legal problems caused by some unscrupulous folks.
The old "FM," which began it's first issue in 1958, lasted until the 80s and then was brought back for a brief period in the 90s and early 2000s, but it was never what it was when "Uncle Forry" was in control. The magazine mainly paid homage to classic horror movies from the silent era through the 80s and was impeccably done, with few spelling or grammatical errors and lots and lots of great photos and memorabilia that was sold on its back pages. It could be making another comeback soon, but it looks to have a different focus on "newer" movies.
For those who like the latest horror movies, Fangoria would probably be the best bet. They really go for the gore with graphic photos but the stories are in-depth and well written on everything from the "Saw" franchise to straight-to-DVD movies like those from Lion's Gate I'm always seeing at Blockbuster.
For the more classic movie oriented among us, I recommend Scary Monsters Magazine, which focuses mainly on horror, and Filmfax, which covers a broader range of genres in the classic movie field.  Filmfax is a slicker, more polished magazine, while Scary Monsters seems to be written mainly by fans, like me, for instance. I wrote one story for them and also for the "new" Famous Monsters a while back. Scary Monsters even has some pretty good comics, short stories and lots of great photos and articles on not only movies, but on conventions and other related happenings. It also has a lot of items for sale, such as reprints and leftover issues of out of print magazines. It's really a throwback to the old-fashioned classic monster magazine you remember as a kid.
 Of course, all these mags have Web sites, too, which you can look up by just putting the name in a Google search. So good luck and happy reading.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Into the great wide open - my experience in publishing so far

I have to say that getting my first book, "Diablero," published was not the harrowing experience I had always been led to believe, mainly because of my awesome publishing house Nightbird Publishing. They have so far made it quite an enjoyable experience. Any bumps in the road have usually been because I ran over my own foot. Or maybe some roadkill. Finding that first publisher? Well, now that was a different story. Finishing a novel after five years of research, writing, stopping and starting? Also another story. But through persistence, willpower, family support and lots of strong coffee I managed to get there.
It started with an idea - what if Blackbeard the Pirate really was in league with the Devil? What if, in fact, the bones that are resting somewhere at the bottom of the Atlantic off Ocracoke Island are still inhabited by...something? What if someone knew about that something and decided to bring that something back from the dead? Then it just kind of snowballed from there. I spent a lot of time in Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, going to pirate exibits, studying the history of Blackbeard, trying to figure out what kind of man he was. I studied a lot of demons and H.P. Lovecraft folklore, as well as the Dismal Swamp, where some of the action takes place. There were lots of interviews, trips to the library, internet research trips and you name it. I had to do plenty of research for all the characters in my book, which was no easy task, believe me. But only what I had to do.
Once the writing was done, then began the rewriting, which seemed to take longer than the writing itself. I probably rewrote the book at least three times from beginning to end. After that, I let several people read it and got input and made changes accordingly, whether they be technical or otherwise. Then came a big learning curve about agents and how they work and why you need one. I learned about writing query letters by reading a lot and by looking at various agent Web sites to understand their likes, dislikes and so on. I wrote at least five different query letters before I finally found the one that seemed to get the most response.
 After getting rejected by approximately 85 agents, however, I became somewhat dejected. I decided to skip the agent route and try to find an independent publisher that accepted unsolicited manuscripts. After about 10 or so rejections, I started getting bites, this time from two publishers at once! I ultimately settled on Nightbird, because, well, they're just cool. And because Publisher Jeff Dennis is just a hell of a nice guy and a fellow musician as well as a skilled novelist.
Now, as they say, the real work begins and we have begun the editing process known as "typeset editing," which means you get to see the book the way it will look when it's printed. I'll let you know how that goes - until then, keep the lights on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In the beginning

Since this is a new blog, I just want to let everyone know what I will be discussing here. I will talk about the publishing process of my action/horror novel, "Diablero," which comes out in Feb. of 2011 as well as anything pertaining to horror, sci-fi and fantasy in literature, movies or whatever else. This isn't about me, per se, as much as it will be kind of a learning experience for people who want to know a little about the publishing industry as it pertains to horror novelists like myself. I will also talk about movies, magazines, Web sites, books and anything that I find interesting pertaining to the world of horror/sci-fi and fantasy that I want to share with others. Anyone can comment, but comments will be moderated, just so you know. For now, though, it's off to dream land.