Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Kaishaku" Blurb/Excerpt and Prize Info

     Below you'll find the blurb and excerpt for my other ebook, "Kaishaku," also from Musa Publishing.  As before, the book's cover is included on the column of photos to the right.  The web address for Musa is:  www.musapublishing.com
     This is the last day of Coffin Hop 2013.  I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.  I'd like to thank Axel and Julie for starting and hosting the Hop, my co-bloggers for their involvement, and everyone for visiting all 80+ participating blogs.  This past week has been both entertaining and informative.  I'm sure as a result that visitors have all discovered new authors and artists whose work they'd like to check out.
     Everyone has until midnight tonight, Eastern Standard Time, to comment and thereby enter my random drawing.  I'll be announcing the winners in a post tomorrow, so please check back.  Or, you can drop me a line at paulccstansfield@gmail.com and I'll let you know if you won, and what formats you can get your prize ebook in, etc.
     Thanks again, everyone, and, of course, have a great Halloween!

  Kaishaku Blurb:

     After receiving a DUI, Dustin Dempster is working off some community service hours at a hospital.  While there he’s asked to do some amateur counseling of sometimes difficult patients.  He thinks this a waste of time, but he reluctantly agrees.
     One of these difficult patients is Levon Howard, a man paralyzed from the neck down because of a car accident.  He’s initially uncooperative, but after being charmed by Dustin’s brutal honesty and willingness to break some small hospital rules, he agrees to participate.  Soon he’s revealing his biggest secrets to Dustin…
     For Levon is an obsessed and unrepentant killer of the worst sort, only with a personal quirk.  Despite his revulsion, Dustin finds himself intrigued by Levon’s story.  Soon he finds himself doing what was once unthinkable, and realizes that he’s being affected by what he’s learned.  Will Howard’s madness claim yet another victim, or even another perpetuator?



Kaishaku Excerpt:

     Dustin pulled up his chair, and listened intently.
     “For starters, my name is Levon, so call me that.  Not big on ‘Mr. Howard.’  Fort is right in a way—I do want to talk.  Just not to someone like him, or his flunkies, or a nurse.  What I’m going to tell you I’ve never told anyone—but I figure, why not?  My life—my real life—is over.
     “You never told anyone?  Why not?”
     “Shut up and listen!  You’ll see.  But anyway, the most important thing in my life is that I’m obsessed with killing.  With a catch—I’m not a murderer.  I’ve never been arrested, never went to jail, and never even broke the law.”
     Levon paused to catch his breath, and Dustin just stared at him, and resisted the urge to laugh.  Come on!  This guy’s gotta be fucking with me!  Or was he?  He looked pretty sincere—could he be serious?  Maybe he would have been better off not talking to him.  But, on the other hand, Levon could hardly attack him even if he wanted to, and besides, Dustin was a little curious.  So he waited for the paralyzed man to resume.



   





Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Unlikely World Series Heroes

     I realize that many (most?) readers of the Coffin Hop, especially non-Americans, might not care about the World Series, so I understand that this post might not be very popular.  However, I am a baseball fan, and the World Series is ongoing, so I thought I’d include a post about it.  (Also, frankly, I needed a post for today, and I couldn’t think of another horror-related topic, so here we are.)
     Very often, of course, during baseball’s biggest series the heroes tend to be the best players.  What made players like Babe Ruth, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, etc. so special is that they were great during the regular season and post season.  But, in a short series, anything can happen.  Sometimes the mediocre relief pitcher, or the reserve outfielder, or the pinch hitter play beyond their usual talent, and help their team at the most critical time.  Here are eleven of those unlikely World Series heroes.

1)      Dickie Kerr, pitcher, 1919 Chicago White Sox.  The star pitchers for the White Sox team that year were Eddie Cicotte (29 wins, 7 losses, 307 innings pitched, 256 hits allowed, 49 walks, 1.82 E.R.A.) and Claude (“Lefty”) Williams (23-11 won-loss record, 265 innings pitched, 265 hits allowed, 58 walks, 2.64 E.R.A.).  Kerr, meanwhile, was a good third starter/relief pitcher, with a record of 13-8, 212 innings pitched, 208 hits allowed, 64 walks, 2.89 E.R.A.  However, in the World Series it was a different story—Kerr was by far the best pitcher on the squad, going 2-0, 19 innings pitched, 14 hits allowed, 3 walks, and a 1.42 E.R.A. in his two starts, while Cicotte was 1-2, with 21.2 innings pitched, 19 hits allowed, 5 walks, 2.91 E.R.A. (good, but not up to his regular season standards) and Williams flat out stank, going 0-3, 16.1 innings pitched, 12 hits allowed, 8 walks, E.R.A. of 6.61.  The team overall lost 5 games to 3 to the Cincinnati Reds.  (For a brief period, 1919-1921, the Series was a best of nine format instead of best of seven.)  The next year, it was discovered just how special Kerr’s performance had been—7 teammates had taken money from gamblers to throw the Series (Cicotte, Williams, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, and Hap Felsch), and one other (Buck Weaver) had known of the plot but not actually participated, or told.  All of these men, of course, were banned from baseball for life, even though, oddly (since they admitted their guilt) they were acquitted in a civilian court.
2)      Bob Kuzava, pitcher, New York Yankees, 1951 and 1952.  Bob Kuzava was an obscure, mostly relief pitcher for the 1951 Yankees.  As expected, he didn’t see action in the first 5 games of the Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  However, in the 6th and deciding game, reliever Johnny Sain loaded the bases with no outs, with New York clinging to a 4-1 lead.  Kuzava came in, and allowed no more base runners (although 2 runs scored on sacrifice flies), saving the series for the Yankees.  Incredibly the same type of scenario repeated itself the following year.  Again Kuzava was a spot starter/reliever during the regular season (with a record of 8-8, 133 innings pitched, 115 hits allowed, 63 walks, 3.45 E.R.A.) and didn’t get into the first 6 games of the series, which was once again versus the Dodgers.  Again Kuzava was called in to preserve the lead (4-2 this time).  He pitched 2.2 perfect innings to once again save the Series for the Yankees.  (This was back in the days when the “closer” relief pitcher wasn’t the norm, and Kuzava wasn’t the Yankees closer or main relief pitcher in either year.)  This was it for Bob’s Series heroics, though, as in 1953, yet again against the Dodgers, he got into a non-clinching game (Game 6) and pitched poorly, giving up a run in only two-thirds of an inning.  Overall, for his 10 year career he was pedestrian—49-44, 862 innings pitched, 849 hits allowed, 415 walks, 446 strikeouts, 4.05 E.R.A.
3)      Don Larsen, pitcher, 1956 New York Yankees.  Baseball fans recall Larsen, as he’s the still the only guy to pitch a perfect game in the post season (Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2010, in the Divisional Series vs. the Reds), in the 5th game of the 1956 Series.  But fewer know that Larsen was at best a third starter, going 11-5, 180 innings pitched, 133 hits allowed, 96 walks, 107 strike outs, 3.25 E.R.A., behind Whitey Ford and Johnny Kucks.  Also, in his first Series start that year, in Game 2, he was removed after pitching only an inning and two thirds, as he gave up 4 walks and a hit.  No hitters and perfect games can be freakish events, occasionally thrown by middling or bad pitchers like say, Len Barker, Joe Cowley and Philip Humber, to name a few, and Larsen fits that bill only on baseball’s biggest stage.  For his 14 year career, he went 81-91, 1549 innings pitched, 1442 hits allowed, 725 walks, 849 strikeouts, 3.78 E.R.A.
4)      Dusty Rhodes, pinch hitter/reserve outfielder, 1954 New York Giants.  Rhodes was a huge factor in the Giants’ upset of the powerful Cleveland Indians.  The Indians had put up a 111-43 record, or a .721 winning percentage, second ever only to the 1906 Chicago Cubs 116-36, .763 mark.  (The 1998 New York Yankees won more games, 114, but due to their 162 game schedule, rather than 154, their winning percentage was “only” .703.)  In game 1, Rhodes hit a pinch hit, 3 run walk off homer in the 10th inning.  In game 2, he pinch hit in the 5th inning and drove in the tying run with a single, then stayed in the game as an outfielder and hit an insurance homer in the 7th.  In game 3 his single drove in 2 runs in the 6-2 final.  For the series he was 4 for 6, with 2 homers and 7 rbi.  They didn’t award Series MVP’s then (that came a couple of years later), but if they had, surely Rhodes would have been the choice.
5)      Bobby Richardson, second base, 1960 New York Yankees.  Richardson was the starting second baseman, but he was of the “good field, no hit” variety.  For the season, in 460 at bats he managed only a .252 average, with 1 home run, 26 rbi, 6 stolen bases, and a .298 slugging average.  The Yankees offense that year (and many others) was led by folks such as Moose Skowron (.309, 26 homers, 91 rbi, .526 slugging), Roger Maris (.283, 39 homers, league leading 112 rbi and .581 slugging percentage), and Mickey Mantle (.275, league leading 40 homers, 94 rbi, .558 slugging, 111 walks).  Well, the 1960 Series turned out to be a 7 game classic, which famously ended on Pittsburgh Pirate second baseman Bill Mazeroski’s walk off, Series winning home run.  Somewhat surprisingly, though, Mazeroski, who had a good Series otherwise (8 for 25, .320 average, 4 runs, 2 doubles, 2 homers, 5 rbi) was not the MVP.  Little Bobby was—the only time a losing player has won, like Cowboy footballer Chuck Howley in Super Bowl 5.  Richardson hit .367 (11 for 30), scoring 8 runs, with 2 doubles, 2 triples, 1 homer, and a still record 12 rbi.  (Mantle did great, too, hitting .400, with 8 runs, 3 homers and 11 rbi).  Obviously, it was a weird Series.  The Yankees scored 55 runs to the Pirates 27, hit .338 to the Pirates .256, and won their games 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0.  But the Pirates did enough to prevail.
6)      Gene Tenace, catcher/first baseman, 1972 Oakland Athletics.  Tenace was a backup catcher/first baseman (and even a game at second and third, oddly) who was a poor hitter that year (.225, 5 homers, 32 rbi, .339 slugging in 227 at bats).  He was promoted to starting catcher in the ALCS and played terribly (1 for 17, 1 run, 1 rbi).  Despite this, he continued to start in the World Series, against the Cincinnati Reds.  In his first two at bats, in Game 1, he hit home runs, leading the A’s to victory.  His torrid hitting kept going throughout the 7 game Series, as he finished at .348 (8 for 23), with a double, 4 home runs, and 9 rbi.  He was about the only Athletic player to contribute on offense—they scored only 16 runs total, and no other player even had 2 rbis.  Rightfully, he was named MVP, and began to get more starting time as his career progressed.  The World Series magic was gone, though—although he played (and won) 3 more series (’73 and ’74 again with the A’s, ’82 with the St. Louis Cardinals), he played mediocre-ly or poorly in these.
7)      Kurt Bevacqua, reserve first baseman, third baseman, outfielder, 1984 San Diego Padres.  Kurt was a true reserve for the Padres that year, garnering 80 at bats in 59 games.  He made the least of these, batting .200 with 1 home run, 9 rbi, and .275 slugging percentage.  Oddly, though, manager Dick Williams put him at designated hitter for the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.  I guess Williams knew something that no one else did, as Bevacqua was the offensive star for the team.  He hit .412 (7 for 17), with 2 doubles, 2 homers, 4 rbi, including the game winning homer in Game 2.  Sadly, this remains the only World Series game won to date for the Padres, as they lost in 5 games in ’84, and were swept in ’98 by the Yankees.  Bevacqua defined journeyman for his career, as he hit .236, 27 homers, 275 rbi, and slugged .327.  Other than this Series, he’s probably best known for blowing the biggest bubble in a mid 1970’s MLB bubblegum contest.  (Disturbingly, I just read that he was also arrested for stalking and attacking his ex-wife and her new boyfriend in the 80’s—didn’t learn the eventual outcome.)
8)      Billy Hatcher, outfielder, 1990 Cincinnati Reds.  Billy was a starting, if unspectacular outfielder for the Reds.  He hit .276, with 5 homers, 25 rbi, 30 steals, and .381 slugging in 504 at bats.  Co-outfielders Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill, third baseman Chris Sabo, and shortstop Barry Larkin were the offensive leaders for the team.  However, in the World Series against Oakland, Billy outshined them all.  The reigning World Series champs, the A’s were heavy favorites, but were amazingly swept by the unheralded Reds.  Hatcher was nothing short of incredible—the A’s only got him out 3 times in the four games.  He batted .750 (9 out of 12), which is like a high school baseball number.  He also had 4 doubles, a triple, scored 6 runs, and drove in 2.  He wasn’t the MVP—that went to pitcher Jose Rijo, who was excellent (2-0, 15.1 innings, 9 hits, 5 walks, 0.59 E.R.A.)  And, to be fair, the entire Reds team did well at the plate (.317 average), with Chris Sabo (.563, 2 homers), Larkin (.353) and catcher Joe Oliver (.333, 3 doubles, 2 rbi) among the notables.  Hatcher’s batting average is still the all time record for a World Series participant, with a minimum of 10 at bats (although Boston’s David Ortiz is currently challenging this—stay tuned).
9)      Mark Lemke, second baseman, 1991 Atlanta Braves.  Lemke shared second base with Jeff Treadway during the season, and was considered a good fielding but weak hitting player.  He batted .234, 2 homers, 23 rbi, .312 slugging, in 269 at bats that year.  The Braves were led that year at the plate by outfielder Ron Gant (32 homers, 105 rbi, 34 steals), third baseman Terry Pendleton (league leading .319 batting average, 22 homers, 86 rbi) and outfielder David Justice (.275, 21 homers, 87 rbi).  However, in the World Series against the Minnesota Twins Lemke started in 6 games, and had the series of his life.  He batted .417 (10 for 24), with 4 runs, 1 double, 3 triples, and 4 rbi.  Included in these hits were driving in the winning run in Game 3, and scoring the winning run in Game 4.  The Braves, of course, lost in 7 games in agonizing fashion, but if they had won surely Lemke would have been the MVP.  Lemke went on to play in the ’92, ’95, and ’96 Series with the Braves, but returned to his usual mediocre to bad hitting ways.
10)  Gene Larkin, reserve outfielder and infielder, designated hitter, 1991 Minnesota Twins.  In 1991 he had a typical season for him—98 games, 255 at bats, 2 homers, 19 rbi, .286 batting average, .373 slugging.  He was relegated to pinch hitter in the ’91 Series against the Braves, appearing in 4 games. However, he did something really special in Game 7—he had a walk off hit in the World Series clincher.  Granted, it was no dramatic homer like Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 Series blast, or like Joe Carter’s homer in Game 6 of the 1993 Series (vs. the Phillies)—it was only a single, over a drawn in outfield (the bases were loaded with one out in a tie 0-0 game), but still, he came through in the most clutch situation a Major League player can face.  This was of course Jack Morris’s famous (or infamous, to Twins haters or Braves fans) 10 inning complete game shutout.
11)  Pablo Sandoval, third/first baseman, 2012 San Francisco Giants.  Sandoval, or “Kung Fu Panda”, is of course a fan favorite, and it’s easy to see why.  He has an engaging, likable personality, and his roly-poly physique is endearing in a Babe Ruth/John Kruk sort of way.  And he clearly can hit, as his lifetime .298 batting average, .351 on base percentage, and .476 slugging average, attest.  However, I think even his most devout fans would admit he’s been a bit of an underachiever—partially due to injuries, but not totally.  In 2012 he had a decent but not great year—396 at bats, .283 average, 12 homers, 63 rbi.  But he sure turned it on in the Series against the Tigers.  In Game 1, facing one of the game’s best pitchers in Justin Verlander, he hit 3 home runs (2 off Verlander).  He cooled off somewhat over the next 3 games, but still hit .500 (8 for 16) with 3 runs, 1 double, the 3 homers, and 4 rbi, and he was justifiably named MVP.  But his Game 1 feat of hitting 3 homers in a game has only been done by 3 players in World Series history, by (drum roll) Babe Ruth (in 1926 and 1928), Reggie Jackson (1977) and Albert Pujols (2011).  Or two Hall of Famers, and one sure to be Hall of Famer.  One of these things is not like the others, as the quote goes, unless Sandoval really picks it up for the rest of his career.








































































































































Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Horror Movie Trivia Contest

     Just to recap the rules of this trivia post, the first person who answers all ten questions correctly wins a free copy of one of  my ebooks, either “Dead Reckoning” or “Kaishaku.”  If no one answers all ten correctly by the close of this blog hop (October 31st, midnight) the winner is the person who answers the most correctly.  In the event of a tie, I’ll chose the winner among the tied people randomly.  And the Coffin Hop address is: http://www.coffinhop.com

1)      The 1932 horror classic “Freaks,” directed by Tod Browning, also known for directing 1931’s “Dracula,” was (loosely) based on a short story.  Name the story and the author.
2)      What horror classic is credited with showing the first flushing toilet in a mainstream movie or television show?
3)      What are the only lines uttered by Karen Cooper (the little girl who commits matricide and patri-cannibalism) in 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead”?
4)      1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” was written by Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper.  What was the original name of this screenplay?
5)      During the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation of Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill claimed that Thomas, among other things, had made inappropriate remarks involving a beverage.  Thomas’s supporters claimed that she took this alleged remark from a horror film classic.  What movie was it?
6)      Dario Argento’s “3 Mothers Trilogy” (1977’s “Suspiria”, 1980’s “Inferno”, and 2007’s “The Mother of Tears”) is based on an old story.  Name the author and the story.
7)      1981’s “An American Werewolf in London” has one of the rare instances in a movie or television show when a real telephone number is used, not a “555” number.  What is this real telephone number?  (And for legal harassment reasons, I don’t condone anyone calling it.)
8)      The first name of the leader of the evil gang in 1972’s “Last House on the Left” and the name of the villain in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series are both based on what real life person?
9)      How many people does Jason Voorhees kill in “Friday the 13th Part 5:  A New Beginning”?
10)  In 1993’s “Army of Darkness” (the 3rd “Evil Dead” movie), main character Ash is told he must say “Klaatu barada nikto” to retrieve the Necronomicon safely (which he of course messes up).  This is a quote from a sci-fi classic.  Name the movie.



Monday, October 28, 2013

"Night of the Living Dead" Cemetery Tour

     To us zombie movie fans, "Night of the Living Dead" is "patient zero" in the zombie film outbreak that was to follow.  Any horror buff worth their salt knows this, but to any of those new to the subgenre, "Night of the Living Dead" changed everything.  Before this zombies in movies were usually slave labor, toiling away in fields on Caribbean Islands, or the product of mad scientists' experiments--few in number, somewhat dangerous, but in a limited way.  But George Romero's living dead were something far more sinister--uncontrolled, hungry for living human flesh, and in sufficient numbers to (eventually) destroy all civilization as we know it.  Zombie films, and the horror genre in general were never the same.
     And it all began here, in a cemetery located just outside a small (population of about 2,000) western Pennsylvania town, Evans City.  Evans City is located about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.  Directions are easy--googlemaps, or the like, will give them to you if you type in "Evans City Cemetery."  So I'll assume potential visitors will do this, and will find the cemetery, off of Franklin Road.  I'll include both my photos (in color) and some from the movie itself (in black and white, clearly).


Sorry, the credits cover the movie still, but if you look closely you'll see the similarity.  Here's the entrance off of Franklin Road.
 After you go around a bend, you'll see this sign on your left.



Just as you enter the cemetery proper, you'll see a small shed on your right.  Then just ahead on your left you'll see an important landmark--the chapel.  I tried to park my car about where Johnny and Barbra did.  If you keep going straight as you enter the cemetery, you can make your way back to the chapel by turning left down any one of the perpendicular cross paths, following that to the end, turning left again, and following that as far as you can go, and turn left and follow this around until you see the chapel building by the entrance/exit.  Once at the chapel, face away from it (as Barbra is doing in the photo above) and walk down that path a couple of hundred feet.  Look to your right, and look for a stone in the first row marked "BLAIR."

Romero and his crew did a good job of not showing gravestone names, but you can pick out a few if you look closely.  Johnny and Barbra's father is buried under the stone just to the right of the Blair stone.  It's really Grace and George Cole.  Notice in the movie there's a tree to the right of their dad's/the Coles' stone, which isn't there anymore.  Either it died, or was damaged/removed during the tornado that tore through this cemetery in the 1980's (which also necessitated the reburial of 200 bodies).
Here's a reverse view, showing Johnny and Barbra's view.
And here's a close up of the Cole stone.


These two shots show where we see the first ever zombie, played by Bill Hinzman, walking around.  Eventually, of course, he walks toward Johnny and Barbra.  It's a little tough to tell which lane he goes down, but I think it's the top of the two photos, since it's closer to the Kramer and Myers stones.
Here's a shot showing the Cole/Blair stones in the foreground, on the left, and other relevant stones in the background, and showing how close they are to each other.  The tallest stone in the background, on the right, is the Nicholas Kramer stone, that Barbra actually grabs onto after grappling with Hinzman's zombie.
Here's both shots of the Kramer stone itself.
This shot shows the Kramer stone on the left, and the Clyde Meyers stone on the right (it's the smaller of the two stones nearest the Kramer one, further away from the camera).  You can also see the Blair/Cole stones in the background, and even the chapel in the distance, giving you another idea of how close everything is to each other.


Here's a close up of the Myers stone, which ends up killing Johnny.
       
        After that, the geography gets a little confusing.  Evidently the filmmakers used cuts to disguise the exact locations.  Barbra appears to steer the car out the cemetery exit, and down the hill toward the road before she crashes against the tree.  Then she of course flees on foot, and runs for awhile before she reaches the farmhouse, which is apparently located some distance away, to the northeast of Evans City (while the cemetery is actually south of Evans City).  The farmhouse was destroyed right after the film was shot, to make a sod farm.  I couldn't tell exactly where it was, and obviously I couldn't check it out even if I could, as it's private property.  (Also, presumably there's nothing of the house left to see, anyway.)  I did find it amusing to see that if she'd reached Franklin Road again, and turned right (north), she would have hit "downtown" Evans City in only  .2 or .3 miles, shown below.
If you have a magnifying glass (sorry) you might pick out Boylan's funeral home, right by where Pioneer/Franklin Road intersects with Main St ( white building on the right, behind the light poles).  In light of what was going on with dead bodies, maybe that would haven't worked out well for Barbra, either.
     
        As for the other locations, the basement of the farmhouse was too small and run down, so the basement in the building of the filmmakers' Latent Image office in Pittsburgh was used.  Karl Hardman's ("Harry Cooper")  Pittsburgh office was used as the "newsroom" seen on the television.  Both are private, so I couldn't see these, either.  The upstairs scenes in the farmhouse were actually shot in a house that still stands in Evans City, but this of course is private property once again.  Otherwise, the bridge where Bill "Chilly Bill" Cardille (a local Pittsburgh horror host) is talking to the Sheriff and the search and destroy team of armed men, is still there, as is, clearly, the Capitol building area in Washington, D.C.

      So I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.  This was obviously a low-rent version of "Horrors Hallowed Grounds" and I recommend you check out that website for more extensive/competently done revisits of horror movie locations.  Please excuse the technical crudity--I'm still quite the Luddite.  Thanks to Ricky for doing what he could with my outdated computer and lack of graphics knowledge.
     And it probably goes without saying, but bear in mind that Evans City Cemetery is a real cemetery, and those folks buried there, and their families, were not directly involved in the movie in any way.  Obviously I don't see a problem with touring a cemetery open to the public, and taking photos, but if you do visit, show the appropriate amount of respect.  I certainly don't approve of or condone any trespassing or vandalism.  On a similar note, I've included the still photos from the film as comparison shots, to help people see the still existing landmarks and to observe how these locations have changed over more than 40 years.  No copyright infringement of "Night of the Living Dead" is intended.
     And if you do see any weird, disheveled, shambling figures in the Evans City Cemetery...............probably don't shoot them in the head, since in all likelihood  they're just other overzealous fans of the movie, trying to scare people.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Dead Reckoning" Blurb/Excerpt and Anthology News

      Today is a self-promotion day, with information about my first ebook, published by Musa Publishing last year.  You can view the cover for it in the column of photos on the right.  "Dead Reckoning" is one of the book choices being given away to winners of the Horror Trivia Quizzes or for winners of the random drawing of all Coffin Hop post commenters (see original Coffin Hop post about the rules for more detail).  Additionally, at the bottom is info about the just released anthology I'm a part of.  Enjoy!

 Dead Reckoning blurb:

      Kurt Minnifield is a fledgling actor playing a zombie in a low budget horror movie.  The director and crew decide to move their shooting to lovely and isolated Watkins State Park… only they don’t get proper permission.
     Victor Newsome is a thirteen year old trying to both shed his nerdy image and learn outdoor skills at a special survival camp.  After teaching the boys how to make shelter and kill their own food, the counselors decide to take a day trip to the neighboring state park—Watkins.
     A series of ethical lapses, poor decisions, and bad luck lead to a colossal misunderstanding.  Violence erupts as both sides fight desperately against a dangerous set of foes.  Who will be more savage—the literal “monsters,” or the boys equipped with deadly weapons, and the knowledge of how to use them?



Dead Reckoning excerpt:

     Kurt struggled to catch up as the unknown actor continued to track the other zombies.  Now he saw that the other actors must have seen or heard the guy—they’d turned around and were advancing on him.  The guy wasn’t Chris, or Rickey, or Gene, either, this was definitely some new actor.  So what happens now?  No one had any special effects things on that he could see, so unless this man ran away the unscripted, natural shooting was over.
     The actor wasn’t fleeing.  He raised his gun and aimed it at the zombie in front, Will.  His hand shook for a second, and then he fired.
     The crack of the shot was loud, and Kurt nearly fell over in shock.  That was no blank!  That sounded real!  What the fuck?  And then he turned his head to look at Will.  Blood was running from a hole in his chest.  Kurt gasped.  Will had been the last zombie to be made up before Kurt—he was positive that T.J. hadn’t put any squibs on him.
     Will had stopped, and his zombie claws went to the wound, and he stared at the hole wonderingly.  The zombies nearest him—Tabby, Henry, and Ed, all dropped their arms down and were staring at Will too, and then back at the mystery man with astonished expressions on their faces.
     The guy hesitated, and then raised his gun a little, and fired again.  There was a second boom, and then Will’s eye broke up, followed almost immediately by the back of his head.  Blood, and pieces of whitish skull and grayish brains splattered out, onto the forest floor, and even slightly on Tabby’s arm.  Will fell on his side with a strange gurgling sound.
     Holy Shit! thought Kurt.  That was no squib either.  This was real!  This guy is psycho!  He watched as Tabby took off, into the bushes to the side of the clearing.  Henry and Ed crouched by Will’s body, and struggled to communicate with the alien assassin.  They waved their arms wildly, trying to signal “Stop” with their palms held up.  Their grunting was noticeably louder, but still inarticulate.  Kurt started to walk across the clearing to join the group.
     The armed man paused a moment more, and then aimed once again.  The two zombies tried to duck behind Will’s slumped corpse.  Two shots whined past, and then a third hit Henry in the shoulder.  Just then he whirled in Kurt’s direction and fired again, just as Kurt threw up his hands.  As soon as the gunman turned, Ed and Henry were in the bushes right behind Tabby.
     Fire rushed through Kurt’s left hand, just above the wrist.  He groaned as he saw blood, and tendons, and even bone through the hole in his mangled hand.  He dove to the ground, just as another bullet hit a tree right where his head had been.  And then he was gone, tearing through the bushes and trees almost without looking.
     The man trotted up to Will’s body, and kicked at it curiously.  He looked briefly at the spot where the hand-shot zombie had disappeared, and then he turned back and went after the first three zombies.
     It hadn’t been thirty seconds when the first fly landed on Will’s destroyed head, took off, and then landed again.  Soon a large crowd of them was jockeying for a prime position.

Anthology News:
     I'm happy to announce that "Undead Living" is now available, from Sunbury Press.  This 14 story anthology consists of stories "about the undead in contemporary society."  My contribution to this book is a story about a man tormented by vengeful ghosts.... a lot of vengeful ghosts.  The address is:  www.sunburypress.com    and it can be found in the "New Releases" Section.

 And, as usual, the address for the Coffin Hop is:  http://www.coffinhop.com
     
    
   
  
                                                  
      
    
   


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Underrated Horror Gems--"The Irrefutable Truth About Demons"

     “The Irrefutable Truth About Demons” (aka “The Truth About Demons”) was made in 2000, the product of New Zealand.  In it, Dr. Harry Ballard is an anthropology professor, who in his spare time investigates and debunks supernatural-themed cults.  A cult has affected him personally, as his brother ran afoul of one and committed suicide after raving that demons were stalking him.  It soon becomes apparent that this cult, called the Black Lodge, is now after Harry, and he finds himself on the run from the viciously violent Lodge members, led by their alleged wizard Le Valliant.  A former member, a bizarre young woman named Benny, helps Harry navigate through all the evil magic scenarios.  But, as so happens in horror movies, all is not what it seems…
     “The Irrefutable Truth About Demons” (hereafter referred to as “Demons”) is a fairly brutal film.  Several characters are killed, sometimes quite graphically.  Despite it being a low-budget movie, the production values and special effects hold up pretty well.  The blood and guts are rendered convincingly.  There are a few shaky moments with portraying the demons (partially done with CGI), but these flaws aren’t major—the director wisely allows the glimpses of them to be mostly brief.  I thought the sound for “Demons” was particularly strong, too.  The background music was suitably unsettling.  And the actual sound effects were cool as well.  As I mentioned, the demons are rarely seen, but more often heard, as they roam about, prowling for Harry.  Their noises are effectively creepy.
     The acting I thought was also a cut above about normal genre fare.  Karl Urban (Harry) acquits himself well as the lead.  Katie Wolfe seems to have fun playing the cheerfully weird Benny.  Jonathan Hendry (Le Valliant) makes a good villain—smart, frightening, yet cynically modern at the same time.  Tony MacIver (Harry’s friend Johnny) and Sally Stockwell (Harry’s girlfriend Celia) play their smaller roles well, too.  And the supporting cast is fine as well, especially the cult members, who are memorably odd and disturbing.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL NOTED OTHERWISE)  The major theme in “Demons” has to be whether all that Harry is experiencing is really happening, or if he’s gone insane.  The film explores this throughout—some events happen and then are revealed as imagination (or illusion), while others remain decidedly ambivalent.  The characters themselves comment on this—“The world is an illusion, we’re actors in a dream,” “Illusion is everywhere,” and “Demons are a metaphor for our fears, our guilt.”  Drugs contribute to this situation—during many of the worst, most surreal events, Harry is stoned on marijuana (and in one case, under the influence of the heroin the cult forcibly injected him with).  And aside from the demonic activities, supernatural and seemingly impossible events keep occurring.  Celia is murdered, then appears alive again, and in league with Le Valliant, kind of a particularly attractive and high-functioning zombie.  Richard, Harry’s deceased brother, communicates with him via dreams, and at the end has apparently come back himself, intent on doing some zombie-on-zombie violence (or at least some solid-ghost-on-zombie violence).  La Valliant pulls a  Mola Ram (from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) and reaches in Harry’s chest with his bare hand and extracts his heart (and therefore, as he explains, Harry’s soul, too).  Harry meanwhile continues to live, move, etc. without benefit of his heart for a day or so.  The ending comes down on the side of the theory that Harry is crazy, as we learn that Harry killed the (innocent?) cancer-ridden La Valliant (who’s allegedly Benny’s father), Benny is schizophrenic, both Harry and Benny are now confined to a mental hospital, and the demons and supernatural shenanigans were only in Harry’s head.  However, Celia asks Harry what magical secrets the “Dark Lords” revealed to Harry after La Valliant died, (and Harry showed his magical prowess), and then Harry is seen to resurrect a dead insect, indicating the events of the movie were possibly real.  Of course, Harry could have imagined Celia’s words, and the insect could have only been stunned and not dead, or something, so these bits of evidence aren’t conclusive.  Obviously the film makers didn’t want to tip their hand 100% on answering this.  Sometimes the “is the main character crazy or not?” plot irritates me, but in this case I didn’t have a problem with it.  And for the record, I tend to think the events of the film, the demons, etc., were supposed to be real, but admittedly this is largely because I want this interpretation to be true, because it makes the movie more scary and interesting.
     (END SPOILERS)  “Demons” did well in New Zealand, and also received good reviews at various horror film festivals, but didn’t seem to get the acclaim I feel it deserved throughout most of the world.  Writer/director Glenn Standring was rewarded with a comparatively huge budget (by New Zealand film industry standards) for his follow up, “Perfect Creatures” (2006), which was about vampires.  However, this one didn’t do well at the box office or critically.  Perhaps this disappointment may have been responsible for his career stagnation—aside from an episode of the new “Spartacus” series he evidently hasn’t been doing much since.  Most of the actors in “Demons” didn’t become stars, at least internationally.  I saw Sally Stockwell (Celia) in a decent horror-on-the-water flick (“The Ferryman” 2007), but the supporting cast has mainly done occasional New Zealand television roles.  Katie Wolfe (Benny) has started directing lately, both television and a feature film (2010’s “Kawa”).  Karl Urban (Harry) is the big exception to this.  His career has blossomed.  After playing Eomer in the last two “Lord of the Rings” films he went on to star in (or have significant roles in) two of the “Riddick” movies, the 2012 “Judge Dredd” remake, “The Bourne Supremacy,” “RED,” and in the two recent “Star Trek” reboots (as Dr. “Bones” McCoy) among others.
     So if you’re looking to see a nasty little chiller, one with evil magic, dismemberment, frenetic demons, and lots of cockroaches, you might want to give this Kiwi offering a look.

Also, I'm having issues getting the link back to the Coffin Hop established, but until then the address is: http://www.coffinhop.com









































Thursday, October 24, 2013

Horror Author Trivia Contest and Guest Blog Post Info

     Just to recap the rules, the first person to correctly answer all ten of these questions correctly wins a free copy of one of my ebooks, either “Dead Reckoning” or “Kaishaku.”  In the event that no one answers all ten, the winner will be the person who answers the most correctly by the end of the Coffin Hop (October 31st).  If there is a tie during that last scenario, I’ll choose among those who tied randomly.  Good luck!
Also, here's the address for the Coffin Hop:  http://www.coffinhop.com/


1)      In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” the monster finds three books which he uses to help him learn how to read.  Name the books.
2)      In Dean Koontz’s “Phantoms” what is the name of the character who wrote a book about mysterious disappearances throughout history (“The Ancient Enemy”), and anticipated the situation that occurs in the book?
3)      What is the title of Stephen King’s first published story (not counting stories in his brother’s newspaper)?
4)      What famous author published stories in his local (Brooklyn) newspaper starting at the incredibly young age of 8?
5)      In 1977, Berkley Books published novelizations to many of the classic Universal horror movies from the 1930’s and 40’s.  A famous author wrote three of them (“Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dracula’s Daughter,” and “The Wolf Man,”), using the pen name “Carl Dreadstone.”  Name him.
6)      What exotic locale was where Scottish born Robert Louis Stevenson died, in 1894?*
7)      What famous author was a speechwriter and campaign organizer for Carl Zeidler’s successful early 1940’s campaign to be mayor of Milwaukee?
8)      What famous author was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien?
9)      Several real life spies, and Fleming’s own experiences, were inspirations for Ian Fleming famous James Bond character.  Another reported inspiration was a spy series written by an author arguably more famous for his many horror books.  Name him.
10)  During the 1980’s and 90’s there was a movement in horror writing called “Splatterpunk,” characterized by very graphic, gory descriptions of violence, designed as a “revolt against the traditional, meekly suggestive horror stories.”  What noted author (and practitioner) is credited with coining this term?


*  I thought this was a funny coincidence—at one point in his life Stevenson visited Molokai, and heard a clergyman speaking ill of noted leprosy humanitarian Father Damien.  He disagreed, and wrote a strong letter criticizing this man’s opinions.  This man’s name was….Dr. Hyde. 

Also, today (Friday, October 25th) I'll be guest blogging on Karen Kennedy Samoranos' blog, with an article about writing inspiration.  The address is:  http://karenkennedysamoranos.wordpress.com 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Exhuming Corpses For Fun and Profit

    (This nonfiction article is a reprint, having been published twice before, in slightly different versions, once in the late, lamented "Morbid Curiosity" magazine.)

     Whenever I tell someone that I’m an archaeologist, the typical response is something like, “Cool.  I’ve always been interested in that.”  Then when I describe a common artifact or site their eyes invariably glaze over.  I certainly understand it; they’re used to seeing dramatic things like Egyptian tombs or Mayan temples on television or in National Geographic, and a few projectile points or the remains of a fire pit ( things that contract archaeologists like myself commonly encounter) usually just aren’t interesting to a layperson.
     However, mention that you’ve exhumed graves, and your audience usually perks up.  Many people pepper you with questions.  And the ones that don’t ask anything usually are doing so because they find the concept revolting, but not tedious.
     Burial projects aren’t that common in my line of work, but even so, in my twenty years in the field I’ve spent over two of these years just exhuming.  The jobs have ranged from a week long project investigating a tiny, six grave family cemetery, to a nine month long job with over 4000 bodies, and requiring a crew of 50 to remove them.  The jobs have been mostly in the Mid Atlantic, and were fairly recent historic burials—early 1800’s up to the 1960’s. 
     For a variety of reasons the maps and overall burial records of the cemeteries were usually spotty and incomplete.  Therefore we generally had only a rough idea of where grave shafts were.  The excavation of the graves was almost always begun by the backhoes; the machines would remove most of the soil atop the graves until the outlines of the grave shafts were seen.  (Oh, and I know the expression is “Six feet under” but clearly, especially in pre-backhoe days, and in areas with rocky or compact soils, many gravediggers figured three or four feet was deep enough.)  In some cases this was demonstrated by soil changes, for some the actual coffin outline was apparent, and for some the presence of the bones themselves showed the grave’s location.  Once this was done workers would typically place wooden stakes at the head and foot of each shaft, sometimes with nails connected by string tracing the outline of the actual shaft.  Each grave shaft would then be numbered, and its location mapped in, and surveying teams would try to match up the graves to the existing maps (if any).
     Now it was time to actually dig up the graves.  The excavators, typically divided into two or three person teams, dug with shovels and discarded the dirt produced, until they encountered bone.  At this point, the digging team used trowels, dustpans, and brushes to completely uncover the skeleton.  Soil lying directly adjacent to the bones was then passed through quarter-inch screen to recover any bits of bone or small artifacts (such as nails or buttons) not seen during the excavation.  After the skeleton was uncovered and cleaned off as well as possible a photograph was taken of it.  (Note:  On smaller jobs, when we had more time to spend on individual graves, more photographs and drawings were done.)  Then, the bones were removed, and as they came out basic scientific data was noted about them either by a professional osteologist (bone specialist) or by the excavating team themselves, depending on the project.  This information included the body’s approximate age of death, sex, and stature, if any or all of these were possible to determine (and many times they weren’t), along with any signs of disease or injury.  The bones were placed within cardboard boxes, (sometimes wrapped in plastic bags) along with plastic bags containing the coffin nails, metal hinges, (and for some projects, pieces of the coffin itself) and any personal non-human remains found in the grave.  These boxes were then usually reburied (for one job they were cremated), typically in huge concrete burial vaults.
     Several factors often complicated this simple procedure.  Probably the worst one was water.  Many of the cemeteries had relatively high water tables, so a grave shaft was sometimes moist or even completely under water.  We would use sponges, buckets, or water pumps depending on the severity, but in some cases there was no way to remove the water and you just had to do the best you could, and hope no bones were accidentally left in the murky lake facing you.  Another common problem was soil that was heavily infested with rocks and/or compacted by heavy machinery running over it.  To get through these soils, pickaxes were necessary, which obviously increased the chances of inadvertently damaging the bones.  Other obstructions were construction related, such as  concrete light post columns or highway supports which had been carelessly punched through the grave shaft, which clearly also wreaked considerable havoc on the body inside.
     The burial practices of the time period also complicated our job.  The average grave shaft had more than one body in it (the most I heard of was seven) and frequently the coffins had rotted to a degree that sent all the bodies in the shaft into each other.  It was often difficult (sometimes impossible) to tell which bone went with which person.
     Finally, the preservation of the bodies varied tremendously.  Some were nearly pristine, with every single bone still present and firm.  Unfortunately, these were rare exceptions.  Most had suffered significant decay, and sometimes the few remaining bones were either powdery, mushy, or as thin and fragile as tissue paper.  The ribs, vertebrae (spine bones), hand bones, and foot bones were more rarely recovered, with the skull and long bones—the femur (thigh bone), tibia and fibula (lower leg bones), humerus (upper arm bone), ulna and radius (lower arm bones),  and pelvis being the most resistant to decay.  Notice that I’ve only mentioned bones so far.  Flesh was rarely found.  By far the most common organ recovered was the brain.  Other tissue remains I saw were sheets of fat (which resembled grayish globs), and probably kidneys/liver (which looked like reddish-yellow cornmeal).  Hair was rare as well, but every so often it would be recovered—sometimes entire ponytails, eyebrows, and even, disturbingly, pubic hairs.  One body in a cracked concrete vault (which really helped preserve the deceased) also had extensive skin, and ligaments.  That was one of the very few bodies that had a strong, bad odor—reminiscent of pickles, very vinegary.  And finger and toe nails were exceedingly uncommon—much to the relief of much of the crew, as many found these body parts oddly repugnant.
     Some pathologies—illnesses or injuries—leave evidence on the bones.  Although these were rare, all told we saw quite a few different injuries and conditions.  Most of the injuries seen were bone breaks, sometimes showing healing with bad settings, which must have been excruciatingly painful.  One man obviously had been hit by a large object such as a train, as practically every long bone he had showed the distinctive spiral fractures which would result from such a collision.  Another man had clearly been murdered; he had a blunt force trauma on the front of his skull, along with two gunshot wounds, also to the skull.  One of the bullets, a .32 caliber, was recovered and must have been lodged within him.
     As for diseases, tuberculosis was by far the most common one seen, with its characteristic pits in the long bones, clavicles, and vertebrae.  Several cases of syphilis were also found, including one man whose striations (bands) on his teeth revealed that he had congenital syphilis.  Another skeleton’s pelvis was extremely thick and looked like coral, indicating cancer.  Some bone abnormalities showed how a disease had been treated or identified; we saw dozens of bones, usually skulls, with straight cuts through them that indicated that they had been autopsied, and other skulls with smooth, bored holes which told us that the person had been the recipient of trepanation. 
     Skeletons with extraordinarily rare conditions were also exhumed.  Several microcephalic skulls were recovered, whose owners in pre-P.C. days were probably called, “pinheads.”  Another woman’s pelvis yielded a boney, but slightly spongy softball-sized mass which was either an ovarian tumor or a reabsorbed placenta/fetus.  And one radius with an extra “prong” was something our osteologist had never seen before.
     Several other unusual items appeared in grave shafts every now and then as well.  One grave contained a skeleton, along with a metal box which contained the cremated ashes of another person.  Most unsettling of all was the jar with a five-month-old fetus still preserved in formaldehyde.  Also strange were the tiny coffins containing nothing but an amputated limb, which seems bizarre and absurd to me.  I guess that’s the one funeral in which the, “deceased,” can give their own eulogy, and what do they say?  “My right leg was one of my closest friends, and I’ll always remember its generous nature and delightful sense of humor.”?  One cemetery had a “witch’s bottle” buried in it—a magic charm consisting of a bottle filled with nails (and sometimes, bodily substances, such as urine, feces, menstrual blood, etc).  This was usually evil magic, to break up a relationship, so the witch could steal a partner.  (And I don’t know what excuse the witch used if the victim caught them collecting waste from their outhouse!)
     Most of the burials contained no non-human remains other than coffin parts.  However, clothing was not uncommon; usually it was scraps and buttons, but occasionally certain articles were recognizable, such as a pair of pants, or a dress.  Shoes, belts, and hats, and even underwear were sometimes found as well.  Personal items were more unusual still, but we saw a variety:  jewelry such as rings, necklaces, pendants, and earrings; religious items like rosary beads, crosses, crucifixes, and saint medallions; change purses and coins; matches; shaving kits; makeup kits; military medals; a truss; pocket watches; penknives; toothbrushes; combs; bottles and jars (including embalming fluid bottles, evidently included by a lazy mortician); dentures; gold teeth; a harmonica; clay pipes; and a doll.  The rare glass eyes recovered usually caused a stir—it’s somewhat alarming to uncover a skull that appears to be staring back at you!
     The fetus account especially reminds me of a common question we got asked, and still do:  “Did it bother you to dig up dead bodies?”  I’d have to say for most of us the answer would be, “No.”  Certain things bothered some or even most of the crew a bit, like say a baby’s skeleton, or brains, or particular smells, but this seemed temporary; I can only recall a person or two who left a project early due to not being able to handle it psychologically.  Clearly, I think that people had a good idea of what to expect when they signed on for this type of job.  Also, perhaps the fact that we were basically dealing with just skeletons, and not fleshy bodies (usually) helped us to distance ourselves enough to get through the project.  And yes, we’re human—countless jokes were told throughout the projects.  The humor ranged from innocent, “Alas poor Yoric, we knew him well,” references to bad taste kidding around about necrophilia.  Possibly these were coping mechanisms, or else simply our way of passing the time.
     But all joking aside, I was offended by the circumstances which warranted the projects in the first place.  Several of them were like the movie, “Poltergeist,” in that people or organizations claimed to have moved the bodies at a previous time, but had only actually removed a handful, but every one of the headstones or grave markers.  One place in NJ had obviously been the area where a machine had torn through over 60 graves and pushed the bones in a big pile, in a scene unfortunately reminiscent of the movie, “The Killing Fields.”  Furthermore, the initial reburial spot for one of the jobs had to be abandoned because a quick inspection of the cemetery showed over a hundred pieces of human bone scattered on the surface, near the burial vaults!  Apparently the cemetery’s caretaker was blind and never mowed the lawn.  These incidents obviously show a serious lack of respect for the dead.

     So, in closing, my feelings about digging up the dead are as follows.  Certainly I think that cemeteries should be well maintained and secure against theft or vandalism.  Plus if alternate areas for the construction of buildings or roads are feasible these should be opted for instead.  Any transferal of bodies is disrespectful to a degree—I’m sure that most people don’t like the idea of having their, or their relatives’ remains exhumed, picked up, probably jostled and damaged slightly, and finally moved to what is in most cases a mass grave or burial vault, with their bones encased in a cardboard box.  However, the unfortunate reality is that in some cases alternate areas aren’t feasible, sometimes due to issues like the discovery of forgotten, unmarked grave yards after construction has begun.  In these cases, then, I think that companies and states should do what was done on the projects I’ve described—remove the bodies using all reasonable care, and rebury them in another, safe cemetery.  That said, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy cemetery projects.  Even with all the physical and emotional issues that I’ve mentioned, I still do find it interesting.  Perhaps part of this can be attributed to a certain degree of morbidity on my part.  “I never feel so alive as when I’m digging up the dead,” is one of my jokey (perhaps of questionable taste) quotes.  However, whatever the reasons, I always try to do the job as best I can, and at least limit the negative aspects of what is overall an unfortunate situation. 

Coffin Hop 2013 and Contest Rules

     Hello, and welcome to Coffin Hop 2013!  Thanks to Axel Howerton and Julie Jansen, for starting and once again hosting and setting up this event.  From now until October 31st, look for posts on a variety of horror-themed subjects, including a "Night of the Living Dead" cemetery tour (with photos), an in depth look at an underrated horror movie, and even a post about the World Series.  (Okay, that last one isn't horror-themed, but it is topical, considering the time of year.)
     Like last year, I'll be running some contests.  First off, any person who comments on a post starting with this one until the end of October 31st will be entered into a random drawing, and the prize is a free copy of one of my ebooks ("Dead Reckoning" or "Kaishaku"), winner's choice.  Additionally, two of the hop's posts will be a horror author trivia quiz, and then a horror movie quiz, with ten questions for each.  The first person to answer all ten questions for each quiz correctly wins, again a free copy of one of my ebooks.  If nobody gets all ten by the end of the Coffin Hop, the winner will be the person who gets the most correct answers.  If say, two people get eight correct answers, then I'll randomly pick a winner from these.  Since I only have two ebooks available, that's the most you can win total.  So in the event that one person wins both trivia quizzes, they won't be part of the overall randomly picked winner from all commenters.  So hope everyone has fun, and good luck.  And please put the "hop" in this Coffin Hop and visit the other participating blogs.  Happy Halloween, THE holiday for all of us horror fans!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Two Announcements

      Starting on this Thursday, October 24th, and running through October 31st, I'll be participating in the 2013 edition of The Coffin Hop.  So look for much more frequent posts (probably one per day) during this period, including a nonfiction account of what it's like to exhume graves, horror movie and horror author trivia contests, a visit to the "Night of the Living Dead" cemetery (with photos), and even a post about the World Series, since that will be going on, too.  Prizes of free copies of my ebooks will be given away as well.  And, of course, since this is a blog hop, it will be interconnected with the blogs of dozens of other horror authors and artists.
      Additionally, on Friday, October 25th, I'll once again be guest posting on fellow author Karen Kennedy Samoranos' blog, with an article about writing inspiration.  The address is:  http://karenkennedysamoranos.wordpress.com
 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pumpkin Beers

     Since it’s the Halloween season I thought I’d do a post about the brew of the season—pumpkin beers.  By doing so I may be risking alienating (or boring) any non-American readers, because pumpkin beers appear to be a nearly exclusive American beverage.  Also, these beers are probably pushing the “exotic” title, as due to their type’s popularity explosion in the past decade or so they’re probably more like “slightly unusual.”  But what the hell—I want to post about at least one food or beverage with a tie to Halloween this month, so let’s get on with it.
     In researching pumpkin beers, I was surprised to learn that their history is extensive.  Like before the U.S. was even a country.  One website I consulted noted that America’s first folk song, written in 1643, was a satire about eating (and drinking, in the form of pumpkin ales) nothing but pumpkins and parsnips.  The lyrics I viewed weren’t that funny to me, but humor can be culturally and time period bound, and this song is over 350 years old, so I’ll give it a break, and not mock it.  During this period, evidently malt was hard to come by, so early European colonists looking to brew beer turned to a local plant that was a good source of fermentable sugars, the humble pumpkin.  As a result, pumpkin ale was quite popular, especially in the 1700’s, along with regular porters and ales.  A recipe for making it survives from 1771, even.  However, this popularity took a major hit in the early 1800’s.  Pumpkin ale was seen as passé, and apparently malt sources weren’t such a problem to easily locate anymore.  Regular grain ales, porters, and then lagers especially came to dominate the U.S. beer scene in the mid to late 1800’s, and up until the present day.
     However, in the early days of the craft, microbrewing movement, in the late 1980’s, a brewer decided to experiment, and reintroduce the pumpkin beer.  This brewer, Buffalo Bill’s Brewery (out of California) even used one of founding father George Washington’s personal recipes for their prototype (although the commercial version was apparently different, and used pumpkin pie spices in place of actual pumpkin to make it).  Over the next couple of decades pumpkin beers steadily grew in popularity, and now hundreds of U.S. breweries offer them.
     And this in itself produced surprising information.  I didn’t realize how polarizing an issue pumpkin beer is.  People seem to mostly love it or hate.  I read a particularly vicious quote about the style from a Washington City Times beer writer, Orr Stuhl:  “Even picking a favorite is like picking a favorite airborne disease.”  Looking through some comments in the websites and blogs I looked at, I saw some similar opinions—how much they hated pumpkin beers, and in some cases, how they hated that they were sold, and how those that enjoy them are not “real” beer drinkers, etc.  These were balanced by comments defending pumpkin beers, many of whom extolled (or at least appreciated) the style.
     I myself, not shockingly, love to try new types of beer (and meat, organs, cheeses, vegetables, fruit—you get the idea), and I’m not adverse to all the fruit-flavored beer types, either, like lambics, framboises, some shandies, winter seasonals—some are quite tasty.  Although I have to say that even the good ones, like decent ciders, are usually so sweet that I can only have one or two in a sitting, and can’t drink them all night.  But as a switch up, I can appreciate them from time to time.  Over the years I’ve tried the occasional pumpkin beer, and recall liking some, so I went into this project with enthusiasm.  But enough history and chatter, let’s get to the rankings.  I deliberately chose a mix of larger, macrobrewery offering, and smaller, local microbrews.  And these are listed, worst to best, using the school A(excellent) through F (failure) rankings.

Southampton Pumpkin Ale (New York State): D.  Very nasty, and astringent.  Not good at all.

Starr Hill Boxcar Pumpkin Porter (Virginia): D.  I like that they tried a different beer style—most pumpkin beers are ales or lagers—but the result was tremendously disappointing.  It was tasteless, like water.  Akin to a light beer—that’s how watery it was.

Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Colorado): D.  Thin, tasteless, and not worth it.

Buffalo Bill’s Brewery American Original Pumpkin Ale (California): D+. You may recall from above, this was the one that reintroduced the style back in the late 1980’s.  So I expected it to be exceptional, since so many copied it, or at least the idea.  But no, for me.  I found it only slightly pumpkin-y, and a lot astringent.  

Lakefront Pumpkin Lager (Wisconsin): C-.  Disappointing.  Only a hint of pumpkin flavor.  Watery and weak.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale (Brooklyn Brewery, NY):  C.  Okay, not great.  Slightly bitter in an unpleasant way.

Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat (Missouri):  C.  Mediocre.  Had slight cinnamon taste.

Shipyard Brewing Pumpkinhead (Maine):  C.  Drinkable.  Not very pumpkin-y.  Rather bland and inoffensive.

Ithaca Country Pumpkin (NY):  C+.  Okay, weakish.  Not great.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Massachussetts):  C+.  Slightly better than average, but still not very special.

The Traveler Beer Company Jack-o Shandy (Vermont):  C+.  Really different—it’s a shandy (lemon peel) mixed with pumpkin.  Weird.  Flavor pairing is a little off-putting and strange, but somehow is not terrible, and is oddly drinkable.

Southern Tier Imperial Pumking (NY):  C+.  Weird.  Sweetish at first, then unpleasant aftertaste.  Does hide extremely high alcohol content (8.6%) well, though.

Uinta Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale (Utah):  B-.  Nice odor.  Okay, a tad blandish.  Still a marked improvement over most of the others.

Harpoon Pumpkin UFO Unfiltered Ale (New England): B-.  A bit weak, but better than average.  Slightly more pumpkin-y.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (New Hampshire): B+.  Nice odor, very good.  Spicey.  Tastes normal at first, than pumpkin flavor really kicks in nicely.

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale (Pennsylvania): A-.  Very good.  Blend of spices was well done.

    In conclusion, looking at my rankings, I’m struck that I’m apparently an exception to the “love it or hate it” dichotomy.  Half (8) I found to be mediocre and average (“C” rating), and I disliked (“D”) 4, and really enjoyed (“B to A”) 4.  And even the 4 lowest ranked ones weren’t terrible, weren’t drain pours or anything.  So it appears, if I generalize, that I kind of like the style, but only slightly.  Also, I should note that I wasn’t able to get my hands on two of the acknowledged superior pumpkin beers—Dogfish Head’s Punkin and Southern Tier’s Pumking (Note: found the Pumking three days later, tried, and ranked above).  If I can locate them I’ll add them to the list.










































Thursday, October 10, 2013

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Halloumi

     Halloumi is yet another example of my favorite food, cheese.  This exotic hails from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  The Cypriots have been making it for 800-1600 years (I know this date range is longishly vague, but it’s all I could determine from half-assed research).  It has spread a bit, though—it’s now also enjoyed in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Greece, Southern Turkey, and recently, the U.K.  Traditionally it’s made from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk, but of late cow’s milk (being cheaper) is sometimes substituted or added.  Cheesewise it’s semi-hard, unripened, and soaked in brine.  Because of its high melting point it’s often cooked—either grilled or fried.  It’s also often wrapped in mint, which acts both as a preservative and a flavoring agent.  In summer it’s sometimes eaten with watermelon, and it’s also commonly eaten with pork or lamb sausage.
     I found halloumi in the Cypriot aisle of my local supermarket (I’m kidding, of course.  I’ve never seen any such aisle in all my travels.  It was located in the international cheese section).  I have a strong aversion to cooking, so unless it’s absolutely necessary, to avoid getting sick or riddled with worms, like with fresh meat, I usually don’t.  Therefore, I just had the halloumi cold, both plain and on crackers.  I thought it was very tasty either way.  It was slightly salty (no doubt due to the brine-soaking), but not overwhelmingly or unpleasantly so.  Its texture and flavor were reminiscent of both mozzarella and feta, I thought.  I would certainly buy it again, and maybe will even consider cooking it next time.
     I was, however, disappointed in one way.  Halloumi is also known as Cypriot Squeaky Cheese.  And it did, on several bites, but only slightly.  At the very real risk of starting a bizarre dairy-based war between Finland and Cyprus, I thought the former’s squeaky cheese version (Leipajuusto, see earlier post) won the squeak contest.  Granted, I’m relying on my memory—I didn’t measure these noises on the decibel scale or anything, or record them for more accurate comparisons, but still, I remain confident of this conclusion.

     And while we’re discussing things Cypriot, I should give a shout out to my former colleagues Bill (“Johnny”) and Michelle, who have both chosen this island as the focus of their archaeological studies.