Monday, July 28, 2014

Kasey Lansdale: Restless

I don't generally do music reviews. In fact this is the first one at Singular Points, but if fits here, as the subject, Kasey Lansdale, is a member of the NECON family, which includes many of my favorite writers, artists, and other creative types. And also I've been listening to her CD, RESTLESS, nonstop since I returned from this year's NECON, where Kasey gave a concert to open the con.
   A little background. I don't listen to a lot of country music these days, but I grew up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains so it was definitely background music to my childhood. I like the old stuff. The real stuff, steeped in blues and pain. I've little (read no) interest in the pop that currently passes for country. I grew up with Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Loretta Lynn, and yes, Elvis. I watched Hee Haw with my grandparents and I have a soft spot for Buck Owens and Roy Clark still.
   Kasey Lansdale is the real deal. The songs on Restless range from the wicked SORRY AIN'T ENOUGH to the slow and heartfelt BLAME YOU FOR TRYING. That last one practically bleeds regret and makes me wonder how someone as young as Kasey can get that sort of feeling into that kind of song.
   Then there's JUST ANOTHER GUY. One lyric from that one stays with me. "And for once he could really be a hero...if he'd just turn that car around." But you know he won't.
   I think my favorite song on the CD though is WHY CAN'T I? As you can probably guess, that's not a happy one. But it speaks to me, which is what we look for in music, so there you go.
   A word about the vocals before I go. Kasey has a very powerful voice (she sang A capella at NECON. Amazing.) and she can go from playful to soulful without missing a beat. She comes from a family of storytellers (her dad is author Joe Lansdale) and Kasey is a writer and editor of fiction as well as a singer. On RESTLESS she's got quite a few stories to tell and they're all worth listening to.

For more on Kasey, visit her website:

http://kaseylansdale.com/

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Churchyard at St John's

  "I have reared a marble urn in his memory in St. John's Churchyard-the place that Poe loved-the hidden grove of giant willows on the hill, where tombs and headstones huddle quietly between the hoary bulk of the church and the houses and bank walls of Benefit street."

H.P. Lovecraft_The Shunned House

Low Profile Weekend

Supposed to hit 92 degrees today but at the moment it's in the mid 60s, nice and cool. Re-reading HPL's THE SHUNNED HOUSE this morning over breakfast, since I was just there a week ago. Interesting to read his description of the house and to be able to compare it to my own experience.
So far my low profile weekend goes well. Played Lord of the Rings Online a bit with Brie yesterday. Got to enter the Paths of the Dead after viewing the Mustering of Rohan. Love it when the game does scenes from the books. Read some comics which I may or may not review later, depending on how industrious I feel. Plan to write some here in the next few minutes. All and all, not a bad start.

Monday, July 21, 2014

In Lovecraft's Footsteps

I mentioned in my NECON Con Report that the Saturday day trip I took with friends was so cool that I wanted to save it for a post of its own. So here we are.
Last summer during NECON 33, James A. Moore (hereafter referred to as Jim), Dan Foley and I braved the record making heat and humidity to go into Providence Rhode Island and visit a few Lovecraft sights and sites. Unfortunately we only had my memory to go on and though we were able to see a few things, I wished I had come more prepared. This year, I showed up with OFF THE ANCIENT TRACK, a guidebook to Lovecraft's haunts by Jason C. Eckhardt. This handy little book, reprinted in 2013 and available from the Rhode Island Historical Society, contains maps and individual listings of the homes Lovecraft inhabited and the places he frequented. It's a nifty book and well worth having.
I had thought that this year would once again be a trip for Jim, Dan, and me, but horror writer and all around cool guy Brian Keene mentioned that he and his lovely significant other, Mary SanGiovanni, would like to go as well. We ended up being joined by a few other NECON campers and they know who they are.
Anyway, there was one place in particular I really wanted to see and we began there. This was 10 Barnes Street, Lovecraft's home from 1926 to 1933, and the place where he wrote most of his most famous fiction, including THE CALL OF CTHULHU, THE DUNWICH HORROR, THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH, and AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.
I have to say that standing in front of that house, knowing that HPL had walked in and out of the place and wandered the same streets where I was now, gave me a bit of a chill. I've stood at the desk where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield, held Mark Twain's letters in my hands, and eaten lunch at Conan Doyle's favorite watering hole, and now walked where Lovecraft used to walk. Made my day I can tell you.
From there we proceeded to 135 Benefit street, the model for Lovecraft's titular dwelling, THE SHUNNED HOUSE. The house is still pretty creepy looking. As we stood out front, I took the opportunity to tell my fellow NECONers about the Shunned House's connection to the late Bob Booth, the beloved 'Papa Necon'. When Joseph Payne Brennan wrote his 1979 novel, ACT OF PROVIDENCE, he made Bob Booth a character in the story. Bob drove Brennan's Occult Detective Lucius Leffing to the Shunned House and stood guard at the door in the basement while Leffing and Brennan (who acted as Leffing's Watson) went deep under Providence for a Lovecraftian adventure. One of the other campers told me that the Ford Pinto Brennan described was Bob's actual car at the time of the first World Fantasy Convention (1975) where the events of the story occur.
Then we walked down the street to The Cathedral of St. John. The tiny churchyard behind the cathedral was a favorite haunt of not only HPL, but of Edgar Allan Poe. Both men went there to think and meditate. The sense of history there was palpable and almost overwhelming. I'm not ashamed to say that I was moved by the experience, not just because of Lovecraft and Poe, but because of the feeling of connection to the past of my country. Many of the graves there preceded the American Revolution.
Anyway, we headed back after that. There were a few more places I wanted to visit, but I had to save something for next year. It was a great day though, made better by the company of like minded folks.

Con Report: NECON 34

As some of you may recall, last year was the first time I attended NECON, the North Eastern Writers' Conference. In last year's report, I mentioned that NECON, aka Camp NECON, is a cross between a convention and a family reunion. It's a place where writers, celebrities, and readers are all on equal footing. No egos allowed.
This year I returned for more fun and saugies and I had a wonderful time. Things started off a little shaky though, as Delta Airlines experienced some mechanical difficulties in a plane and my original flight was overbooked and I was one of the 17 unlucky people who got bumped from the flight. So was my pal and co-author James A. Moore, so we got put on a later flight and had to hang out for six hours in the Atlanta airport. (Delta did give me a $900 travel voucher for my trouble, so I can fly pretty much anywhere in the US for free now.) We arrived at the T.F. Green airport in Warwick RI about dinner time and the intrepid Dan Foley picked us up, along with a couple of other NECONers, and we stopped by Legal Seafood, where I had a stuffed shrimp casserole, filled with crab meat. I'm not a huge seafood fan, but when in New England, you want the seafood.
We made it to the convention center and hotel just in time to hurry to the inner courtyard and catch the opening concert by the amazingly talented and drop dead gorgeous Kasey Lansdale. Kasey sang some songs off her new album RESTLESS and did some cover versions of songs by others, and she and writer/actress Amber Benson did a duet of SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT, which was great. So travel snafus notwithstanding, the con got off to a great start. Kasey is the daughter of Joe Lansdale and is a writer and editor herself. And boy, can she sing.
On Friday, my pal Paul McNamee made it to the con. I've been chatting with Paul online for several years and it was great to finally meet him in person. Last year I was asked to be on a panel at the last minute, but this year, no longer being the new guy, I was assigned a panel on crime and horror fiction and spent a fun hour chatting with fellow panelists James A. More, Jan Kozlowski, Chris Irvin, Michael Koryta, and moderator Bracken MacLeod. I really thought the panel went well and I learned some stuff which is always a plus. Spent the afternoon wandering the dealer's room and art show, then went out for terrific Chinese dinner with folks. That evening was the 'meet the authors' party and I got some books signed and even signed a couple, so that was a blast.
Saturday morning Jim, Dan Foley, and I went out for breakfast at a little mom and pop Polish place for more great food. When we got back we headed out to Providence with some other campers to see the Lovecraft sights. That turned into such a cool day trip that I'm going to devote a separate post to it. Saturday evening was the Artists Reception followed by the Infamous NECON Roast, about which my lips are sealed. What happens at NECON stays at NECON.
After that we had another saugie roast in the courtyard where I ended up in a fascinating discussion about non-genre books and Ray Bradbury with Jim Moore, Amber Benson, and some other folks. And after that I went to bed.
Sunday morning I barely had time for breakfast before Bev Vincent and I had to head for the airport to catch our planes home. I had one last glimpse of Shadow-Haunted Providence and then put in a grueling travel day beset with storm delays and traffic jams, but I finally made it home. My cat Bruce was very glad to see me and hasn't left my side since I got home.
On a personal note, I mentioned above that NECON is like a family reunion. Everyone went out of their way last year to make me welcome but I still felt like a distant cousin. This year I felt more like one of the family. There are some fine folks at NECON and I already miss them. And I made many new friends as well.

PS. The attached pic is just some of the swag I picked up at NECON.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Secret Files of Dr. Drew

   I first discovered the occult detective Dr. Drew in the pages of The Rocket Blasts Comic Collector fanzine and like many people I took it to be the work of Will Eisner, the legendary creator of The Spirit. As it turns out I was only partially wrong because the artwork on the feature was by Jerry Grandenetti, who was one of Eisner's 'ghosts' on The Spirit. Grandenetti reached the point where he could imitate Eisner's style so closely that it was difficult to differentiate Grandenetti/Eisner from pure Eisner.
   Originally appearing in the pages of Fiction House's Rangers Comics, beginning with issue #47 (1949), Dr. Drew fought all sorts of supernatural menaces. Ghosts. Vampires. Witches. Even the Devil himself. And now, thanks to the folks at Dark Horse Comics, you can read all 14 of Dr. Drew's adventures in a big hardback collection for only thirty bucks. Not only are all the good doctor's adventures included, but tons of extras like bios of the creators, a history of the Dr. Drew stories, and an interview with artist Grandenetti. Plus an introduction and art from Michael T. Gilbert, the creator of that other supernatural sleuth, Mr. Monster.
   The concept of Dr. Drew is pretty simple. Drew is an expert on the occult who lives in a mansion atop Bone Hill. From here he rides out in his horse-drawn carriage (no car for Dr. Drew) to fight supernatural menaces wherever they raise their ugly heads. Like the later comic book occult detective Doctor Adam Spektor, Drew has no super powers and instead must rely on his wits and his arcane knowledge, though he certainly is a man of action and doesn't mind mixing it up with fists or bullets when he has to.
   The writer for the Dr. Drew stories was a woman named Marilyn Mercer, who began working for Will Eisner as an office manager, but soon moved to writing scripts for the Eisner shop. There is a brief biography of Mercer in the Dark Horse collection but I'd like to know more about her, because she had some really good, creepy ideas and I wonder if she was a reader of horror or just had a really vivid imagination. Her prose is nice too. Check this out:

   "One evening a heavy fog rolled in from the sea and surrounded Bone Hill, clung to its sides, and slid into the valley, where it lay in a thick, blinding shroud. In the harbor, on the roads, all mortal life was, for the moment, halted"

   Nice and atmospheric, eh? And there's lots more where that came from.
   Anyway, I was really taken with this collection. Drew is almost the John Thunstone of comics and readers of Manly Wade Wellman, Seabury Quinn, and other occult tec writers should check out the adventures of Dr. Drew. Like most Fiction House characters, Drew is in the public domain, which means some other writer could pen new adventures. Were I a comic book publisher I'd approach Don Glut, creator of Doctor Spektor about a new Dr. Drew series. As it is, maybe I'll write something with the good doctor myself.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Obligatory Cute Cat Pic II

My cat Bruce in a shoe box. Cats and boxes. A winning combination.