Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

This past Saturday, I attended my first meeting of Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers in a while. As I’ve mentioned (whined about?) in some recent posts, I’ve been really busy lately and a lot of things got put on the back burner.

The meeting is in North Jersey and it’s a nearly two-hour drive for me. But it’s worth it. The group is made up of a very talented, professional and dedicated group of writers, and I always take away something valuable.

At this meeting, the guest speaker was Teel James Glenn. The guy’s pretty much a walking encyclopedia of things I consider to be cool. He writes books that are intentional throwbacks to the classic pulp era of the 1930s, of which I’m also a fan. Some elements of The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report were intended as a homage to classic pulps, including the tough-guy detective hero and the gang of masked villains.

Teel is also a martial artist, professional stuntman, and fight coordinator for movies. He’s got a particular specialty in sword fighting. I picked up his now out-of-print (but not for much longer, as a reissue is on the way) Them’s Fightin’ Words!: A Writer’s Guide To Writing Fight Scenes. I know we’re not too far into 2014 yet, but that still pretty much made my year. Hell, he’s even into sleight-of-hand.

Check out his Website, The Urban Swashbuckler. (Come on! How freakin cool is THAT?)

Anyway, he said something about writing that really had a big impact on me, and helped me get past something I was struggling with in the novel I’m currently working on.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read articles, writing manuals, and critical think pieces about popular culture that stress the importance of two elements in fiction: A flawed hero and a compelling villain. (more…)

So why was Ray Harryhausen, the special effects pioneer who died today at the age of 92, such a revered figure? I could write about that for hours. But let’s keep it simple. In 1963, he created a skeleton army for “Jason and the Argonauts” and it looked like this. (FYI: The guy who posted this apparently added his own soundtrack. Whatever.)

In 1999, with far more advanced technology and a shit-ton more money at their disposal, the special effects team for “The Haunting” created a CGI ghost. And it looked like this:

Any questions?

stewieI guess I’m weighing in a little late in the news cycle about Seth MacFarlane’s now-notorious Oscars hosting gig. But I’m not really going to talk about the gig itself, so much as what it illustrates about the nature of humor. And in that respect, a little bit of perspective is probably a good thing.

As a writer of humor – or what I HOPE constitutes humor, anyway – it’s a debate that I’ve followed, in the hopes that I might glean some insights.

MacFarlane, of course, took a lot of criticism for the jokes he made. Many observers, including Jamie Lee Curtis and Jane Fonda, branded him as sexist. Particularly infuriating, from the critics’ standpoint, was a musical number titled “We Saw Your Boobs,” which was essentially a listing of movies in which female actresses showed their breasts.

Another factor in the controversy, for better or worse, is the fact that MacFarlane’s appearance accomplished exactly what the Oscar programmers hoped it would. Ratings were up, particularly among the coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic. (more…)

Jonathan Burns is a professional magician and contortionist. When I found that out, I formed a picture in my mind. Something mysterious and exotic.

Perhaps he’d journeyed to some remote spot in Nepal, where he’d spent years in a cave learning esoteric meditation and yogic techniques from some wizened guru before traveling back to the West so he could stun audiences with his otherworldly powers.

When I spoke to him after his performance at the Magicians Alliance of Eastern States 2012 convention, he disabused me of that notion.

How did he become a professional contortionist? Well, he was that weird kid in school who could twist his body in disturbing ways, and liked to freak out the girls with it. To his credit, he never grew out of that. And he managed to turn it into a highly entertaining act.

Seriously. At the convention, he had pretty much the entire room doubled over in laughter as he did stuff like working his entire body through a toilet seat.

Words wouldn’t do it justice, so I won’t even attempt to describe his act, other than to say it was eye-popping, endearingly child-like, and very funny. Here’s the interview and a link to his site, which includes some videos so you can see for yourself.

How long have you been performing?

I was always a bit of a ham. I was the kid who would put his leg over his head to gross out girls in gym class or perform arm pit farts at the family reunion. My parents decided to channel that energy and took me to a local magic shop when I was about 12. I picked up a bunch of tricks and would perform them for anyone who’d watch. Eventually, someone noticed and asked me to perform at their daughter’s birthday party. I gathered up all my tricks, put on a sparkly vest, and made about $20. From there I was hooked! (more…)

You know what sucks about hearing writer Scott Pruden read a chapter from his novel in progress? Knowing you’ll have to wait for the rest of it. Oh well. From this sneak preview, it sounds like it will be worth the wait. In the meantime — if you haven’t yet — check out his science fiction novel “Immaculate Deception.” It’s REALLY good. Enjoy.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m something of an amateur musician. That “something of” modifier alludes to the fact that I’ll have to get a lot better before I can properly describe myself as “amateur.” For now, I’m just the annoying guy walking around at parties, doing the “Hey look! You’ve got a coin in your ear!” routine that makes people suddenly pretend they have to go to the bathroom as an excuse to get away from me.
I think the main reason I stick with it is because it gives me the opportunity to attend magicians’ gatherings, and see the people who really do know what they’re doing perform.

Last weekend, I attended the Magicians’ Alliance of Eastern States Convention in Cherry Hill, N.J., and had a blast. On both Friday and Saturday night, the convention staged magic shows for attendees. Wow! The word “amazing” barely covers it.

Every performer was great. As an added bonus, you could go up and talk to them afterward.

One of my favorite acts of the weekend was “The Crescent Circus” from New Orleans, featuring Nathan Kepner and Morgan Tsu-Raun. They combined stage magic, juggling and acrobatics. Their whole act was like pure, distilled entertainment value.

I’ve included a Youtube clip so you can see what I’m talking about. Nathan agreed to answer a few questions about the act, and about his journey from Central Pennsylvania to New Orleans. (more…)

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a Star Trek “red shirt?” You know — one of those people in the original Star Trek who’s introduced for the sole purpose of going down with the main characters in a landing party and getting killed? If so, you might be interested in this interview with Beverly Washburn, who played one of those people in the Star Trek episode “The Deadly Years.”

But that’s far from Ms. Washburn’s only role. She got her start as a kid on Jack Benny’s radio show. As you’ll see in the interview, just a few of the famous people she’s worked with include Lou Costello, Kirk Douglas and the great director Frank Capra.

Probably her most iconic role was as “Lisbeth” in “Old Yeller.” She was in “Shane,” for cryin’ out loud!

I hope you enjoy the interview (despite my repeated flubs). If she doesn’t charm the socks off you … I’m sorry, but you just aren’t human.

I have no doubt that every single science fiction geek with a blog is spending this evening banging out a tribute to Ray Bradbury, who died today at the age of 91. So I guess I don’t have much to add. But what can I say? I just can’t help myself. I loved the guy too much.

So I’ll try keep this brief. I can probably restrict it to two points.

1) He changed my idea of what writing — what art in general — could be. But he did it subtly. Gradually. See, I can’t say I loved him unreservedly when I was a kid. As a young sci-fi geek, I wanted adrenaline-pounding stuff. Giant alien monsters. Laser-gun shootouts. Hot babes in metal bikinis. Ray Bradbury gave me none of that, to my frequent disappointment.

And yet … I couldn’t stop reading his books. They got under my 12-year-old skin in a way I couldn’t understand. If you’d asked me what I wanted out of a book, I would have said something like “hot babes in metal bikinis having laser gun fights with giant alien monsters.” I sure as shit wouldn’t have said “surreal and elegiac meditations on the loss of childhood innocence.” And I would have considered anyone who actively sought out subject matter like that to be an irredeemable lame-ass.

But it turns out that WAS the kind of thing I wanted to read, whether or not I was aware of it at the time. I owe you one, Ray.

Interesting note: When I went to Penn State back in the day, I openly feuded with a literature professor who told us on the first day of class not to bother reading science fiction because it was all garbage.

In retrospect, I still think the guy kind of had his head up his ass on that score. (Kurt Vonnegut? Hello?) He apparently thought I was some airhead blinded to the merits of truly great literature because I’d spent too much time immersed in infantile fantasies of … well … laser fights, giant monsters and babes in metal bikinis. Hell, I guess we were both partially right.

We finally bonded to some extent over a science fiction writer we both admired, and who even he had to admit had genuine literary merit. Yep. You guessed it. Ray Bradbury.

2) Most of the news stories I’ve seen about Ray Bradbury’s death mention “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” as his defining works. And no question, both are brilliant.

But hands down, my favorite Ray Bradbury book was “From the Dust Returned.” That actually started out as a collaboration between TWO great 20th-century American artists — Bradbury and Charles Addams.

Addams, of course, was the cartoonist whose works inspired “The Addams Family.”

In 1946, Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called “The Homecoming” for Mademoiselle Magazine, and Addams contributed an illustration. It concerned the Elliotts, a family of ghosts and monsters living in middle America.

Bradbury wrote a series of related short stories about the Elliots in the years ahead, which eventually combined to form the novel “From the Dust Returned.”

From that description of the story, you’ve probably inferred that there’s a lot of overlap between the Elliotts and the Addams Family. The book basically comes across as a series of vignettes about the Addams Family, written by one of our great literary stylists.

It’s got everything that made the Addams Family so great — mainly the humorous juxtaposition of the characters’ monstrous nature, and their loving, happy family life. But it’s all rendered in achingly beautiful prose, which finds emotional depths in the material that the Addams Family never reached.

Man! Remember at the beginning when I said I’d keep this short? I just realized that I could go on and on here. I won’t. So in closing: Goodbye, Ray. Thanks.

Here’s a video that I did at a Gettysburg horror convention back in September.

Most guys who watched that video had two questions for me: “Tom, what are your thoughts on the horror genre? To what extent do you regard it as a perspicuous gauge by which a culture obliquely examines its social ills?”

Nah, not really. The questions most guys had were: “Tom, what’s the deal with that ‘Cheerleaders vs. Zombies’ actress? Do you think she might be interested in me?” (She shows up at the 2:08 mark, by the way.)

In response to the latter question: No.

In response to the former: She’s Nancy McDonald. She’s originally from Baltimore, but she recently moved to Los Angeles, where she’s writing for “Famous Monsters of Filmland” and pursuing a career as an actress and model. Here’s a link to her Website.

Ms. McDonald graciously agreed to answer a few interview questions for Chamber of the Bizarre.

Would you tell us a little about your background?

I started attending a theatre school and performing in dinner theatre at the age of 9. I took correspondence courses with Trinity College of London for about 6-7 years. It was pretty much the scariest moment of my young life- every year an examiner would fly over from London to sit with me in a big empty theatre and I had to impress them with my interpretation of various monologues and prose!

What are some projects you’ve been involved with?

I did a few short films while I was on the East Coast and a few smaller parts in features. One project I am waiting to see is “Shark Exorcist” by Donald Farmer. I improvised an entire scene of being possessed in a graveyard and I want to see how much of it he used…

Do you have anything in the works right now?

I had a part in a short film last year called OLLO DE NOLLO and I am waiting to hear back about a couple of auditions. At this point, just making ends meet while living in LA has taken some precedence. CHEERLEADERS VS ZOMBIES is still in the fundraising phase.

So what’s the deal with Cheerleaders vs. Zombies? Am I correct in assuming that it involves cheerleaders and/or zombies in some capacity?

You would be quite correct 🙂
We are on our way to a cheerleading competition when we get stranded in the desert and end up fighting off zombies. You know, like ya’ do….

Why do you think nobody’s done a movie featuring cheerleaders fighting zombies before now? It seems so obvious in retrospect.

I agree! Altogether, I’m pretty grateful it hasn’t been done to death already, like so many other zombie themes.

What makes a good horror actress?

It depends on whether you mean Horror Actress or “Scream Queen”. Scream Queens generally have to have a great set of lungs, and- let’s face it- a great set of tits.

However, in my opinion, the elements of a great Horror Actress are similar to those of an actress in any genre- the ability to realistically and sympathetically portray a character in circumstances one may not have encountered in one’s own life. A Horror Actress just has to do it while probably covered in fake blood and generally fighting for her life 😛

As a horror actress, can you give us some recommendations on good horror films?

My all-time favorite Horror movie is LADY IN WHITE. Despite my propensity for being *in* gory movies, my personal preferences are suspense thrillers, ghost stories, and anything with a Fantasy edge. PAN’S LABYRINTH makes me cry like a baby and I adore it. INSIDIOUS was one of the best things I’ve seen in ages, simply because it brought the creepy-factor back in a big way! Also, it’s not a movie, but “American Horror Story” is an amazingly well made show.

What advice would you give us on surviving a zombie apocalypse?

Stock up on canned goods and ammo. Trust no one.