Thursday, December 11, 2014

On the Book Beat

My latest column for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference:

BOOK BEAT by John Oak Dalton
MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King
A disturbed young man plows into a line of people waiting on a job fair, and a dogged detective never catches him before heading into retirement; but when the young man begins to intrude in the retiree's life, he gets a second chance in Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes.
King has been dipping a toe into the mystery world lately, and I have been enjoying his new direction.  Unlike some of his other recent thriller attempts, like Joyland, this one contains no supernatural elements at all (perceived or real) and is probably closer styled to a summer blockbuster.
Although I thought some of the characterizations ran hot and cold, the story rockets on a relentless pace, with plenty of suspense and a nerve-racking conclusion that would play well on the big screen.
I think King's fans will enjoy this change of pace, as well as general mystery readers.
REALLY THE BLUES by Joseph Koenig
A jazz musician flees New Orleans under mysterious circumstances, and makes the mistake of landing in Paris during the Nazi Occupation in Joseph Koenig's wartime thriller Really the Blues.
Koenig has been an elusive figure in publishing, having written several different kinds of novels before seemingly disappearing for almost twenty years, emerging in 2012 with a very good hard-boiled noir, False Negative, which first got me interested in the author.
Now there's Really the Blues, where our reluctant protagonist would prefer to keep playing his music, but the Resistance, in various forms, keeps crossing his path, with the Nazis dead on their heels. 
This is a very engaging thriller that will have appeal to all kinds of readers.
A young boy is the sole survivor of what turns out to be a long, connected series of murders, and it's up to the dogged prosecutors and police (including one clever police dog) of the Uppsala law enforcement community to figure out what's going on in Asa Larsson's The Second Deadly Sin.
I am a big fan of Larsson's novels, set in rural Sweden and featuring lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, whose psyche is a little fragile after all that has transpired in her previous adventures.
Larsson writes rich, interesting characters, and depicts vibrant slices of life from her own homeland.  This sometimes stands in stark contrast to the violence and terror that bursts from the pages at unexpected intervals.
These are very solid mysteries, and recommended for those who want a change of venue in their stories.
THE SON by Jo Nesbo
The son of a rogue cop ends up in prison, strung out on heroin supplied through a mysterious source; but when he figures out his dad might have been framed, the machinery of revenge begins to run in Jo Nesbo's superior crime novel The Son.
For those in a post-Dragon Tattoo malaise,  I can't recommend anyone more than Jo Nesbo.  His Harry Hole novels, about a flawed police detective in Oslo, are all top-flight thrillers accessible to audiences foreign and domestic.
This is a stand-alone story but the equal of his other work, told at a breakneck pace and featuring nothing but flawed characters, on both sides of the law, throughout.
MAPUCHE by Caryl Ferey
In Argentina, a private eye and an artist (the Mapuche of the title, an indigenous person of Argentina) begin to look into the murder of a transvestite prostitute, but quickly find themselves immersed in the dark history of Argentinian politics in Caryl Ferey's grisly thriller from the World Noir line.
Mapuche is a rocketing thriller, with additional intrigue for anyone interested in the history and politics of Argentina and South America, or in political thrillers in general.  I found out to be a good read and a window into a culture I was not familiar with.
However, Mapuche comes with a warning for readers with a gentle constitution; there is a lot of gruesome torture, murder, and rape throughout, and thus can only be recommended to more mature readers.  Worthwhile to those of a receptive mindset.
An Indian taxi driver gets an unexpected fare when he picks up a fading Bollywood actress; and when she turns up dead the next day, the cab driver tries to solve the crime to prove his own innocence in A.X. Ahmad's The Last Taxi Ride.
Even though the reader might see the ending before our protagonist, the story hits all the right beats as well as being an interesting look at Indian culture, both in India as well as New York City, where the story largely takes place.
Along with some emotional baggage that plays out, our hero fortunately has a military background that helps him out of numerous scrapes involving unsympathetic police, remorseless gangsters, and backstabbing friends.
Recommended for those who would like a change of pace in their characters and situations.
LAST WINTER, WE PARTED by Fuminori Nakamura
A journalist with a hidden agenda intends to write a book about why a popular photographer burned two women to death, but gets more than he bargained for in Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura.
This skin-crawling noir is written in an interesting, fragmentary style which includes pieces of the journalist's novel as well as other accounts of the story told from various angles.  But it is loaded with creepy characters, where every man has a secret fetish and every woman is an evil temptress.
Nakamura's novel The Thief, which I earlier read and enjoyed, also showed the sweating, seeping underbelly of Tokyo, but the author turns it up a notch in this one.  A greasy palette of tastes from sex dolls to S&M to implied incest is on display.
I found it to be a good read, but for darker tastes.
A cop, out of steam in his career and in his marriage, finds himself galvanized to find an abducted tourist as the disturbed kidnapper continues a cat-and-mouse game in Philippe Georget's Summertime, All The Cats Are Bored.
Georget's first novel comes from the World Noir line, quickly becoming one of my favorite imprints with (mostly) hardboiled noir from around the world.
This novel takes place in the French Mediterranean town of Perpignan, and in addition to a solid mystery interested me in someday visiting this area.
For mystery readers looking for a change of pace, this novel has a decidedly European flavor, both in its dealings with police life as well as marriage.
I continue to be very satisfied with the World Noir line and will also look for Georget's next book.
THE MASTER OF KNOTS by Massimo Carlotto
The Alligator, an Italian sort-of criminal turned sort-of detective, and his knockaround pals try to help a client who is  involved in murderous games with an S&M group in Massimo Carlotto's The Master of Knots.
The author has had a colorful life of his own, and some of it has obviously seeped into his writing.  In this, the second novel I have read in this series, he and his old-school pals find themselves shocked at the world they uncover, including the sinister criminal of the title.  The reader too may be shocked by some of the plot developments, not for all tastes.
But center to the story is the relationships between the three detective friends.  My favorite character is Rossini, an aging, genteel strongarm with his own curious code of honor.  I could very easily see Rossini based on the Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni (as see in Big Deal on Madonna Street).  Their scenes are veined with humor.
Carlotto's world is full of dishonorable lawyers, crooked cops, and gangsters with hearts of gold.  I enjoy visiting this world, through the World Noir line.
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason
Dogged but unremarkable Icelandic cop Sigurdur Óli reluctantly tries to help a friend being blackmailed with explicit photos, but quickly gets involved in a complex, murderous scheme in Arnaldur Indridason's Black Skies.
I am a huge fan of Indridason's police procedurals featuring flawed but insightful detective Erlendur (the first translated into English was Jar City) but this novel features a supporting character from the earlier novels, one of Erlendur's colleagues.  It is a change of pace in tone (including some lighter subplots), but still features much of Indridason's very solid storytelling.
I am always on the lookout for more of Indridason's writing.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Mo Scarewaves

Throwback poster for the Scarewaves DVD; how cool is this?  Very late 80s-early 90s.  Streeting in 2015.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our House is a Very Very Very Fine House

I seem to be lucky with movies that have "House" in the title in 2014.  Here's a trailer for "Alone in the Ghost House," a found footage movie I did with Henrique Couto.  I think it was a bit of an experiment for both of us.  I really wrote more of an extended outline--maybe 30 pages--with the spine of a story and bits of dialogue and characterization.  Henrique worked with a close group of actors and extrapolated it out from there.  I'm not sure if anyone knew how it would turn out, but the cut I saw of it is pretty dangalang scary.  Remember, it's called a "found footage" movie, not a "one guy survives and brings the tapes back" movie.

My return from exile has been pretty fruitful, in my opinion, with "Meateaters," "Haunted House on Sorority Row" and "Scarewaves" all coming out, and "Alone in the Ghose House" and "Amityville Death House" on the books for 2015 release.  A crazy time.

Until later you can catch me at

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I'm Not Sick But I'm Not Well, And I'm So Hot 'Cause I'm In Hell

I've been talking for a long while about a movie I did under nondisclosure, and here it finally is.  It's hard to believe, but this is Eric Roberts, Fred Olen Ray, Mark Polonia, a chick turning into a spider, some Amityville hocus-pocus, plus lil ol me. Check out the the teaser trailer here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

We Three Kings

Friday night at the Scarewaves premiere with director Henrique Couto and fellow screenwriters Ira Gansler and Jeremy Biltz.  It was a big, enthusiastic crowd and some lunatics actually asked me to sign autographs.  I was happy with my segment and these guys did good too.  Streeting everywhere in America sometime in 2015.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Amos Satan's Horror Show

Hitting the big screen this Friday, September 26th at 10 p.m. at the Englewood Cinemas in Dayton, Ohio.  I will be at the front of a long line of autograph seekers.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Thought He Passed His Own Shadow, By The Backstage Door

New reader George writes,

Hi, I'm 19, Irish, and trying to be a scriptwriter. know any submission points?

Hmmm, I would say work up one or two spec scripts based on what you would like to write. Then focus on nurturing relationships and sees what evolves.

It's tricky in my world (b movies) because a lot of people write their own scripts. Also a lot of people get burned so it takes a long time to build trust and relationships (probably also true in A list movies, don't know).

Work on your craft, start to meet people through the internet or visiting conferences, etc.

I hope this helps.

Questions always welcome at

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Read On

Some old pals pinged me on an influential/memorable books meme. This isn't a favorite books list, but a list of books that have stayed with me.

My childhood, "Have Space Suit--Will Travel" by Robert Heinlein and "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.

My teen years, "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller, "Slaughterhouse-FIve" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and "Vengeance is Mine" by Mickey Spillane.

College years, "A Bend in the River" by V.S. Naipaul and "Germinal" by Emile Zola.

Adult life, "The Heat's On" by Chester B. Himes, "Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand" by Samuel R. Delany, and "Valis" by Philip K. Dick.

I might have a slightly different list another day, but it's a good place to start.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How Years Ago, In Days Of Old, When Magic Filled The Air

Since I sadly had to miss the Blue Whiskey Film Festival this year for the first time ever, I decided I would do a little road trip for myself to take its place, and ended up at GenCon for the first time in about ten years. 

The best new thing was all of the food trucks along Georgia Street.  Ate there all the time.

The best old thing was the paint and take miniatures.  I don't play miniatures much any more, but still painted one.

The first five dollars I spent (not the last).

My friend Jon Solita got me hooked on the auction, where crazy stuff like this was.

Lots of celebrity sightings.  Crazed musician Andy D, who played at GenCon; The Angry DM, who I tried to thank for including me in a pickup game of "Kobolds Ate My Baby" with a bro hug, and almost got punched in the face; my pal Andy Britt, who was some video game character I don't know but other people dug; my old microcinema pals Jon Solita and Jay Neander; Blue Whiskey's Mike Noens, who was screening his film "Brightside" in the GenCon Film Fest; b-movie dude Rob Merickel; and Wil Wheaton, just chillin TFO and playing D&D with everybody else.  Plus my brother Eric, who took some of these pics.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

I'm Just Looking for Clues at the Scene of the Crime

Sharknado 2 is loose upon the world, and--I'll say it--the world is better for it.

I watched a shark movie marathon on SyFy leading up to it, and as a result found this interview with screenwriter Jose Prendes.  It did make me a bit melancholy how the AV Club spoke to Jose Prendes (in full disclosure, I don't know him).  It reminds me of the time an interviewer asked me what was the worst movie ever made.  Does my spiritual guide Michael Tolkin get asked this?  (Answer:  probably not.  Also, Michael Tolkin once wrote an email to me that I treasure.)(PS I answered Triumph of the Will.)

It makes me mad people say all the SyFy movies are automatically "bad."  There are some that are lazy, some that are cynical, some where people are cashing checks, but that is all movies.  The SyFy ones where the people behind the scenes are fans as well differentiate themselves.  And the fans can sniff out honesty vs cynicism, as I have said before.  Do you think Sharknado director Anthony Ferrante (disclosure:  we are FB friends) was serious when he had a guy get swallowed by a shark and chainsaw his way out?  He did it because he is a fan, and made it for fans.

I think people mix up "bad" and "cheap."  You know what movies are really bad?  All the Transformers movies, both GI Joe movies, both Thor movies, the first Hulk movie, Pacific Rim, Battleship, on and on and on.  They just look better.  If you put the screenplays side by side, with no money attached, they are no smarter than the cheaper SyFy movies.

I had somebody once tell me that if they couldn't get a "real" movie made, they would just whip out a few quick b-movies.  The truth is, people work just as hard making b-movies.  I challenge anyone who thinks it is easy to make a b-movie to try and produce one.  And then, if you can get that far, get somebody to distribute it.  I have sold (I think about) 25 scripts in the last 15 years, and my ninth movie is coming out in September.  I think that is a very high batting average for screenwriting, and I think many would agree.

Same with acting.  Is there anyone worse than Megan Fox in Transformers?  I think Sarah Lieving in Super Shark and Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus is much better, and probably got paid Transformer's coffee money.  I think Danielle Donahue in Meateaters and Joni Durian in Haunted House on Sorority Row are better than Sarah Lieving, and probably got paid Super Shark's coffee money (in full disclosure, I wrote but did not cast both of these).

This really isn't written to fans.  As I have said, fans can smell intent, and they are loyal if you are one of them.  Those are the people that keep me going.

Until later I am at

Monday, June 30, 2014

In The Town They're Searching For Us Everywhere

This is what I did last week; camped, hiked, cooked over a fire, chilled the eff out.   It was the first time my wife and I had gone on a straight vacation in four years.  I read four pulp paperbacks I nabbed from a flea market; they had names like Ambush Basin and Wyoming Manhunt.  On stormy nights, which was half the week, I stayed in the popup camper and worked on a new screenplay. The screenplay has a very claustrophobic setting and somehow with the thunder, lightning, and rain constantly drumming on the canvas, and the thought of eminent escape to the van for safety, I was able to channel some pretty claustrophobic scenes.  Hopefully I can talk more about this screenplay shortly.

In the meantime Scarewaves is wrapping up in what has been a very productive screenwriting time for me.  In the last eighteen months I have seen two movies out--Meateaters and Haunted House on Sorority Row--and two more in production--one under a nondisclosure and Scarewaves.  I completed Doctor Zombie for director Mark Polonia which should go into production this fall.  I finished a vampire movie and did an action movie rewrite.  I am finishing a sci-fi movie and may be doing another horror rewrite in the coming weeks.

I thought with the collapse of the video store industry and a streaming solution (for the b-movie market) still not fully realized it was all over.  But it's not.  In some ways the SyFy Channel has filled that space, and it's something we all talk about writing for.  There are some inroads for VOD in the b-market (notably Amazon Instant and just a splash of Netflix) but for whatever reason, and nobody can explain it to me, people are still buying DVDs.  I think Blu-Ray is more like a collector's market (like Laser Disc was once upon a time), so it has not replaced DVD like some thought.  I just don't know, but for now people want scripts so I think I'll poke along for a bit.

Until later I'm at

Sunday, June 08, 2014

In My Mind And In My Car

Over in Ohio on the set of "Scarewaves," the horror anthology I wrote a segment in for director Henrique Couto.  My part starts a little "Double Indemnity" and ends a little "Dawn of the Dead" and I'm happy with how it looked on the set.  Shot in a nice couple's house who didn't seem to be worried about the police getting called when we threw a sheet-rapped dummy into their farm pond.  Thanks to Christopher Page for the middle photo, which looks like I'm bossing Henrique around.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

And You Touch The Distant Beaches With Tales Of Brave Ulysses

I didn't know I had been gone this long without blogging until a loyal reader emailed me and asked where I was, and up to that moment I didn't realize that people were that hard up for fresh content on the internet.

A lot has happened to keep me away from here, good and bad.  We had the longest, most terrible winter I can remember since those Ice Age late 70s winters, only this was worse because I was the one responsible for the shoveling, and the frozen pipes, and the hot water heater and furnace both quitting, and on and on and on.

Why I bothered to make fake snow, I'm not sure.
It got so bad, I started making hooch again.

But some really good things happened, like my grandson was born on January 1, 2014, the first baby born at Cincinnati Mercy hospital in the New Year, and instantly became the cutest baby on the interwebs.

And then there was another special delivery:  Haunted House on Sorority Row.  My screenplay got made into a movie got made into a tee shirt.
Close readers of the blog will note that the time from when I became re-acquainted with director Henrique Couto at a local film festival to when this movie was actually screened was very short indeed.  Close to nine months, ironically enough.  I got to go to the premiere in Dayton, Ohio, this winter and sort of felt like the chaperone at a Juvenile Detention Prom.  But the movie played like gangbusters at both screenings and I'm very happy with how it came out.  I would post a photo, but they were all confiscated by Homeland Security.

Another movie, Meateaters, from my old friend Mark Polonia, came out at very close to the same time, almost a twin as it were (grandbaby theme still in full effect).  It is currently available on Full Moon Streaming and garnering some buzz for its whacked-out dino-noir sensibilities.  I'm also quite happy with my screenplay for this one and hope it sees wider release.

That's all the news fit to print, more or less, and I will try to be more diligent as I have a few more projects in the hopper; a project that is on ultra secret down low lockdown is in post production, but I can blab all I want about Doctor Zombie, a throwback horror film I wrote for Mark Polonia, and a segment I have in Henrique Couto's upcoming horror anthology Scarewaves.

Until then you can catch me at