Sunday, March 29, 2009

Back Into Shape and Back To Work

When one deviates from their normal, day-to-day schedule (due to unforeseen circumstances, sickness, or, in my case, a two-month and counting work lay-off) one of two paths may be followed. Either enthusiasm at the new opportunities that present themselves or a slow decent into mediocrity.

I'm afraid I've experienced the latter lately. Oh, it didn't start out that way. After my voluntary lay-off from my job, I had visions of the wellspring of extra time that presented itself and the wonderful things I would be able to accomplish. And, actually, that was how it turned out... at least in the first two or three weeks of my unemployment. Then the gravity of demon slough began to weigh upon my shoulders and I began to make allowances and excuses that detoured me from that strict regiment of daily writing that I intially set for myself.

I reckon it all started with the release of my short story collection, Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors in mid-February. Amid work on several projects, Cemetery Dance released the book out of the blue and I was deluged with contratulatory emails and phone calls, interview requests, and favorable reviews. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the attention. This was the first major literary release I'd had since returning to writing after a decade-long hiatus. Those days following the release of MG were a 100% adrenalin rush. I spent alot of time promoting the collection and way too much time hopping from message board to message board in cyberspace, keeping track of what folks liked and disliked about the book (thankfully, the likes outweigh the dislikes 10-to-1). I started feeling right proud of myself, in fact. But you know what the Bible says ... about "pride goeth before the fall" and all.

Around the beginning of March, I began to lose sight of my original vision and slacked off from my writing something awful. A couple of my kids suffered bouts of sickeness and I took care of them and the eye surgery I had scheduled for mid-March was postponed until early April. But that wasn't it entirely. Plain and simple, I just got lazy. Where I once got up early in the morning while the household slept, to get in a couple of hours of solid writing, I began to hit the alarm clock snooze button more and more, until I pried myself out of bed fifteen minutes before time to rouse everyone else. Also I began to take full advantage of our Netflix subscription. I began getting alot of movies and TV shows that my family have no interest in seeing... horror flicks and TV series I'd missed or was nostalgic for (X-Files, Heroes, the Twilight Zone, to name a few). And I began to snack more. While my family has been away at work and school, I have ashamedly carried on an illicit love affair... with junk food like Snickers, Little Debbie cakes, and Goo Goo Candy Clusters ( if you don't know what those are, its a Southern concoction of chocolate, marshmallow, caramel, and peanuts decadent enough to lead any candy-loving fella down the road to a serious confection addiction).

So, in the wake of this laziness, two things have taken place. I have steered away from the strict regiment of writing I originally had set in motion and, well, (he says, grinning sheepishly) I've sort of gained a little weight... ten or fifteen pounds, to tell the truth. Maybe more than that. Think Alfred Hitchcock with a couple more chins and a Southern accent. "Good evening, y'all."

Okay, maybe I'm not quite that bad. But I believe I've come to my senses now. The vision is back in sight again. I'm determined to get back to the projects I abandoned for the past few weeks; an edit and critique of an extremely good novel by a pal of mine (sorry for the delay, JHJ!), a new novel proposal for Cemetery Dance, one for Leisure (keeping my fingers crossed on that one) and a few short stories and such that I've agreed to write for magazines and anthologies. And (moan!) I'm giving up the junk food. I've filled the fruit bowl with apples and bananas, the pantry with 100 calorie packs, and the fridge with bottled water. And I've dusted off the treadmill, too. I'm averaging a mile and a half per day, with a goal of two miles by the end of this coming week. I'm bound and determined to shed twenty pounds or more by Hypericon in early June. I'm a short fella (got that from my mama's side of the family) -- 5-foot-7 -- and my "fighting weight" is around 155 lbs... so that's what I'm shooting for.

So, for what it's worth, Ol' Ron is back on the straight and narrow. Both writing-wise and health-wise. Time to get off my Doritto-chomping, movie-watching butt and back into the cockpit again. Back to the business of working out... both in body and mind.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Early Influences: Part Two - Famous Monsters, DC & Marvel Comics

My favorite magazine of all time... Famous Monsters of Filmland
Around the time I was eight or nine years old, my interest in monster movies began to branch out to other forms of creature-loving enjoyment, including horror-oriented literature. No, not Poe or Lovecraft, Shelley or Stoker... those would come much later, in my teenage years. I was beginning to read ravenously at that time, in my quest for pre-teen knowledge and literary stimulation. The elementary school library had these little pocket biographies of every famous person imaginable and I believe I read all eighty-two in one year's time. But the life histories of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln simply couldn't hold a candle to my favorite source of reading material... Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine!
If you've read my blogs within the past year, you know that I have a great love and respect for Famous Monsters and its founder/editor, the late Forrest J. Ackerman. This periodical with its wonderful full-color monster covers, its wealth of rare black and white movie photos and corny puns, as well as those wonderful ads in the back selling horror-oriented merchandise, made FM a favorite among boys my age, especially ones with morbid interests like mine. I remember buying Famous Monsters almost religiously between 1968 and 1973, around the same time I generated an interest in those great Aurora monster models. Watching monster movies, putting together the models, and devouring Famous Monsters was pure heaven for me at that young age. I thought nothing could muscle in on Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Then along came...
DC Comics
Around the time I was ten years old, I started becoming extremely interested in comic books. I believe I started out buying alot of the DC horror comics at first... House of Mystery, House of Secrets, The Witching Hour and, later on, Swamp Thing. Then I began to gravitate toward the super-hero comics. I bought Superman, Action Comics, Batman, the Brave & the Bold, The Flash, and, of course, Justice League of America, the best deal a comic-loving kid could get, since it featured all of DC's best between two covers.

DC's heavyweights... The Justice League of America

I had my personal favorites among the JLA's ranks. I'd been a collosal Batman fan since the Batman TV series staring Adam West and Burt Ward, so putting the Dark Knight at the top of my list was a natural. Then I'd say the Flash was my second favorite. The thought of a super-hero who could travel at incredible speeds captivated me in a way Aquaman or the Green Lantern never could (besides, I loved the way his compressed costume came leaping out of his ring whenever he changed into the Flash... although I could never figure out how he got it folded back down to that size afterward). Next was the Atom. I don't know what it was about the Atom... he didn't seem quite up to the challenge of the other Justice Leaguers -- he strank down to microscopic size (or smaller) and retained man-sized strength, but he seemed to have much more personality than some of the others. I remember a Brave and the Bold story from the 70's that still sticks with me after all these years. Batman is shot by some thugs and is literally "brain dead". The Atom shrinks down, enters Batman's brain, and brings him back to life, like some caped and cowled zombie, by jumping on key pressure points of his cerebellum. Batman battles and defeats the thugs who "killed" him, then is returned to his former mental state after the Atom repairs the damage done to the Caped Crusader...from within. It was a strange and almost grisly story that appealed to my horror-loving side. I wish I knew which issue that was; I'd sure like to wrangle up a copy of that one and read it again. (If there is anyone out there who has the answer, there's a signed copy of Flesh-Welder in it for you).

Marvel Comics

During that time, there were pretty much two camps of superhero fans; those loyal to DC and those loyal to Marvel. I began in the DC camp, thinking Superman and his peers had no match. Then, around the time I was twelve, I began buying The Incredible Hulk (mainly because he was like a cross between Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde), and then began to add the Amazing Spiderman, The Invincible Iron Man, and The Fantastic Four to my list of favorite titles. It wasn't long before I was hooked by Stan Lee's incredible characters, although I still continued to buy the DC comics.

Members of the Marvel Universe... Nuff Said!
Marvel's superheroes were different. They seemed to be based on a more complex emotional level than DC's heroes. They had nine-to-five jobs and personal problems galore... something I found appealing as I came to age, transending from my childhood and into my teenage years. Also the villians seemed much more interesting and more menacing than what DC had to offer. Of the Marvel heroes, The Hulk was my favorite of the bunch, followed by Spiderman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. I always loved those no-holds-barred battles between the Hulk and the Thing and I remember that long run of Spiderman featuring storylines like Harry Osborne's drug abuse, the death of Gwen Stacy, and the introduction of the Punisher. When the new breed of XMen came upon the scene, Wolverine and Nightcrawler joined the ranks of my favorite heroes.
I also found myself buying the Marvel horror comics, too... sticking true to my first love. Comics featuring Ghost Rider, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf by Night. I also read Man-Thing, although I never liked it nearly as much as DC's Swamp Thing. I guess the stories were a little over my head at the time and, besides, I loved ST's incredibly detailed Berni Wrightson artwork. That was another thing that gravitated me toward an interest in comics, I suppose... my interest in art. I'd always had a talent for drawing and painting, through my elementary school years and on into high school, when I was the cartoonist for the school newspaper. I even aspired to be a comic book artist during my sophomore and junior years, creating dozens of my own comics featuring my own stable of superheroes (heroes like the Adversary, Glassman, Amphibi-Human, and the Rebel, to name a few). I even collaborated with my best friend at that time, Lowell Cunningham. He wrote the scripts and I did the artwork (until I went solo and began to write my own stories). Incidently, Lowell went on to create the famed Men In Black series, while I went on to specialize in tales of Southern-Fried horror. Just two unpopular, nerdy boys from Tennessee. Who would have ever thought it?

Coming up next: My desire to become a comic book artist is derailed when I discover a couple of old-time pulp heroes -- one sporting rippling muscles of bronze and the other a face as pale and emotionless as that of Death itself -- and I am bitten by the notorious "Writing Bug"!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pod of Horror #52: Ronald Kelly & Clive Barker

Okay, so Clive Barker is really the headliner on this edition of Mark Justice's Pod of Horror... but this is my blog, so I just thought, what the heck, I'll list my name first. Anyway you put it, though, this is a thoroughly entertaining podcast. Besides Mr. Barker's excellent interview, there's the Call of Kalanta and book reviews by Norman Rubenstein.

And I'm on there, too, talking about my departure and return to the horror genre, my new CD releases Midnight Grinding and Hell Hollow, and upcoming books such as The Sick Stuff and Undertaker's Moon. Incidently, this was my first vocal interview and I was incredibly nervous, so I may have sounded like some backwoods hick fresh off the tobacco wagon. But, hey, I really enjoyed doing it and I think it turned out pretty dadblamed good, if I do say so myself.

To check out Pod of Horror #52, you can download it here:

Hope y'all enjoy it!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Early Influences: Part One - EC Comics & The Big Show

I enjoyed Tales from the Crypt before I could
even read... or talk... or walk....
It seems like fans are pretty interested in how Ol' Ron came to love monsters and horror and all manner of creepy stuff. I've touched on those early influences briefly in interviews, but never explored it in great detail. So I thought it might be fun to write a series of essays on those books and movies -- even folks -- that are responsible for stirring up this gooey gumbo of monster-loving mischief that I call a brain. As with most writers of horror and suspense, it all started with an interest in monster movies and comic books and eventually evolved into an appreciation for more adult fare (and I'm talking about Poe, not Playboy). So let's start with my earliest influences... the publications and motion pictures that turned an innocent child into a dyed-in-the-wool monster lover!
EC Comics
Although those great EC horror comics hit the newstand nearly ten years before my birth, I was influenced by their depravity at an early age... an extremely early age, in fact. To tell the truth, before I was even born.
Let me explain, before y'all brand me as a certified nutcase. I've told this story before a couple of times, so bear with me if you've heard it before. Back in 1959, my mother was pregnant with me and living in the rural town of Dickson, about forty miles southwest of Nashville. My father was in the Army overseas. He urged my mother to join him in Germany, but she refused to go, afraid that the hospitals over there weren't up to par and that something bad might happen during her delivery. Her intuition proved correct, for during my birth there were complications and both me and her nearly died. But I'm putting the haywagon before the mule here. Anyway, Mama rented a little house in Dickson and, while exploring the attic one day, discovered a huge stack of old EC horror comics amid the dust and cobwebs. Titles like Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear. Well, she brought those comics down out of the attic and read them over and over again throughout her pregnancy. So, instead of a prenatal diet of sweet lyllabyes and nursery rhymes, I was fed a ghoulish goolash of reanimated corpses and bug-eyed, flesh-eating monsters. I don't know how valid the "knowledge-before-birth" theory is, but I did always share a strange sort of psychic connection with my mother (one that could be downright scary at times) and it's plausable that I might have absorbed some of the terror and disgust experienced as she read those "funny books" that had no Comics Code Approval stamp on their covers. At least that's how my relatives believe I turned out the way I did.
I did enjoy the reprints of those old EC horror comics later on, when I was in my teens. In fact, I bought an entire set of the hardcover Tales of the Crypt reprints, part of the Complete EC Library released by Russ Cochran in the '80s. Funny, when I read those gruesome and gory stories for the first time, many of them seemed vaguely familiar, although I'd never laid eyes on them before. So maybe there's something to the whole pre-natal literature influence after all.
The Big Show
No, I'm not referring to the morning show with John Boy & Billy that's a staple of Southern radio-listening. This Big Show was an afternoon movie fest hosted by weatherman Bob Lobertini on Nashville's WLAC television station back in the 1960's. I remember coming home from kindergarten, snuggling up on the couch with a jelly-jar tumbler of lime Kool-Aid and my favorite snack of peanut butter and Karo syrup on leftover breakfast biscuits (my mother's strange, but delicious concoction) and watching the Big Show. My friend, Mark Hickerson, insists that the program had different themes (Elvis and Beach Party movies), but all I remember was that they featured every monster movie ever made until that time (excluding silent films and really bad B-grade movies). This was my first introduction to these types of flicks and, particularly, the classic Universal Monster movies.

The best friends a five-year-old could have...
the Universal Monsters!

From that moment on, my outlook on life was changed. At that early and impressionable age, I was bitten by the "monster bug" and its bite was terminal. I sat and watched all the old Universal movies during that hour and a half following the sobering reality of public school. Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Invisible Man... they all haunted my daydreams. None of them seemed particularly scary... just fun to watch. My imagination began to reform itself during the viewing of those black and white horror flicks. I found myself stepping out of the grim reality of day-to-day existance (we were poor folks living in a rental house in Nashville at the time, my father earning a whopping $40 bucks a week at his tool-and-die job) and into those spooky landscapes with their crumbling castles and fog-shrouded moors. There were other monster movies on the Big Show as well, all wonderful, but none giving me the true shudders. I remember movies like The Incredible Shrinking Man, War of the Collosal Beast, and Monster on Campus... the one where the fluid from a prehistoric fish leaks into the pipe of a college professor, turning him into a flannel-wearing, hatchet-slinging Neanderthal Man. I also remember watching a movie called The Monolith Monsters, where the equivent of giant Magic Rocks reeked havoc and thinking, even at that young age, that the plot was ill-formed and downright idiotic.

Then came the Universal monster who, for the first time, transended our little 16" black and white TV screen and swam its way into my five-year-old nightmares...

The first monster to invade my nightmares...
The Creature from the Black Lagoon!

The Creature from the Black Lagoon was the first Universal Monster movie that had a truly horrifying impact on me. The Wolfman came close, but it was the Gillman who conjured a shudder of fear and infected my psyche with the potential for both loving horror and being affected by it in a deliciously dark way. I guess the Creature with his scales, gills, and razor-sharp claws presented a monster in a much more menacing way than the other members of the Universal crew did. I mean, he actually looked real! The Wolfman was hairy and scary, but he did roam the European countryside in well-pressed shirt and slacks. The Gillman was nakedly horrifying; he wasn't a human being who had eventually evolved into a monster like all the other Universal monsters... this was what he had been since birth, full of fury and resentment of those who would invade his precious Black Lagoon. The scene in which he attacks the men in the tent was one of the most horrifying I had witnessed up until that time and, even though you only see the Gillman's webbed claw groping through the tent flaps, the result is terrifying. I remember waking up in the middle of the night several times that week after watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon, crying out for my mother, swearing that the Gillman had been in my bedroom, stinking of swamp algae, his fish-eyes gleaming in the glow of the streetlight outside my window. I remember my mother debating whether I should be allowed to watch the Big Show again but, eventually, she succumbed to my youthful pleas and soon I was watching more Creature features like Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us (my least favorite in the series... after all, he wore clothes through the majority of the movie. What a bummer!)

Also at this time, I was first exploring my artistic side. My mother fashioned me a binder loaded with school paper and I would draw each monster as I sat there watching. Before I began first grade, I must have had at least eighty drawings of every movie monster imaginable. What I wouldn't give for that binder of childish sketches right now...

So, with the introduction of the Universal Monsters, my horrifying lot in life was set... my destiny forged with yak hair, fake fangs, and latex scales. From that moment onward, my interest in normal boyhood interests diminished. I traded in my baseball cards and catcher's mit for lumbering man-made men and Transylvanian counts. And upon my chest was pinned the badge of weirdo. But it was a metal I wore proudly and without shame...

Coming up next: As I advance toward my pre-teen years, my love of monsters is joined by a brand new love... of web-slinging nerds, green-skinned behemoths, and steely men who can leap tall buildings at a single bound!

Monday, March 9, 2009

FEAR: The Motion Picture?

Now, y'all don't go running out and buying your movie tickets just yet. Books are optioned for film all the time and 99% of them never make it to the celluloid stage. But with the arrival of a counter-signed contract and a handsome check in my mailbox today, the reality of a big-screen version of my epic novel Fear is a heckuva lot more probable than it was a few weeks ago.

To tell the truth, I've been working on this deal for nearly a month now. I was contacted about optioning the movie and television rights to Fear around mid-February, when Cemetery Dance announced the release of my short story collection, Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors, and my comeback finally seemed to be in motion. In the weeks that followed, negotiations were ironed out and the agreed-upon details set in stone by a respected entertainment attorney in Los Angeles. No, I didn't get rich off this option, which is only a prelude to the possibility of something much bigger and better, if (and that's the key word) a major studio should decide to pick up the snake-skinned ball and run with it. The one who optioned Fear (and I'm not going to reveal exactly who it is, for fear of jinxing the whole thing) is now preparing a solid film treatment of the book and has already booked an appointment with a major studio to pitch the idea. And I've been assured that the script will adhere to the storyline and spirit of the original novel, keeping true to the characters of Jeb, Sam, Roscoe, Buckshot, the Granny Woman, and her evil sister, The Snake Queen.


Am I holding my breath? No. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Who knows? Sometime in the next couple of years you may be seeing Jeb and his gang's treacherous trek into the deep dark heart of Fear County on the silver screen or on primetime TV. I'm certain that it won't be the sprawling six-hour mini-series I've always dreamt of, but, hey, it could be turned into a decent two and half hour movie. Maybe directed by Stephen Spielberg or, better yet, Frank Darabont. Heck... I can hope, can't I?

For now, I'm going to get back to the business of writing this creepy stuff and not dwell on things that might or might not happen. But it would be pretty dadblamed cool if it did, wouldn't it?