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20171202_104727Friday afternoon I left KC and headed south for what was supposed to be an overnight trip to visit the Ray Harryhausen exhibit at the Science Museum Oklahoma, on literally the day before the exhibit closed down. I was able to make the trip at all thanks to lots of help from my patient, affectionate, and extremely supportive wife. Up until that day, about the most strenuous excursion I had attempted since my surgery was a couple of trips to the movies (notwithstanding a couple of trips to the emergency room, which, while plenty strenuous, weren’t exactly voluntary).

I ended up overdoing it a bit at the museum, and what was supposed to be a one night trip turned into a two night one, but other than that I seem to have returned no worse for the wear than when I left. And I got to see the Harryhausen exhibit!

20171202_105835For those who may not know, Ray Harryhausen is one of my biggest inspirations, and, for my money, easily one of the greatest monster designers who ever lived. I own a book of his art and a book of behind-the-scenes stuff from his films, as well as just about every movie he ever worked on. My first novel was dedicated to him. So the opportunity to see some of the models and illustrations that had gone into five of his most famous films up close and in person was one that I didn’t want to miss, surgery or no surgery. (It is only thanks to Grace that I didn’t miss it, so she deserves another shout out here.)

 

It’s difficult to put into words what seeing these objects in person meant to me. Earlier this year, I got to go see the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and while the influence of GDT on my own work is probably more immediately obvious than the influence of Harryhausen, I would be extremely hard pressed to say which exhibit affected me more.

On the car ride back, Grace and I were discussing the exhibit, and I talked about the magic that is present in stop motion animation, especially that animation done by Ray Harryhausen. How much personality he was able to breathe into all of his creatures, how watching his films is like watching your toys come to life. And that magic was in the air everywhere at the exhibit, all of the models seeming like they were just one moment away from stirring into motion.

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In spite of the books I’ve read, documentaries I’ve seen, and commentary tracks I’ve listened to, I learned things at the exhibit that I didn’t already know. I learned how some of the armatures were cannibalized and repurposed for other creatures in other films, I learned about them strapping a bunch of stuntmen together in order to capture the motions of the Kali statue. I was already aware of Harryhausen’s own debt to the engravings of Gustave Dore, but I was happy to see that debt laid out in detail, and to see illustrations done by Harryhausen that obviously owed a heavy debt to Dore.20171202_105608

I know that I didn’t see most of Harryhausen’s other films until I was older, but I saw Clash of the Titans on TV when I was just a kid, and it had the same impact on me that Star Wars had on other people around my age. Seeing creatures like Harryhausen’s iconic take on Medusa or the Kraken in person was amazing beyond my ability to put into words.

Sadly, since the exhibit focused on Harryhausen’s fantasy films, I wasn’t able to see my very favorite of his creations–Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth–who may not exist in any significant form anyway, since his armature got reused on other creatures later on.

The rest of the Science Museum was pretty amazing as well, and I probably could have spent easily twice as much time there as I did, had I not run completely out of energy. As it was, I missed a lot of what it had to offer, but was able to see a planetarium show, check out an exhibit on Cabinets of Curiosities and an exhibit on shoes, and watch a live chemistry show where they made things explode. Grace even got to be a volunteer and hold an explosion in the palm of her hand!

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There’s so much more I could say about the trip, about the exhibit, about the museum, about Harryhausen, but I need to catch up on the things that I didn’t get done while I was away over the weekend, so I should probably wrap this up. I promised lots of pictures, some of which I’ve already been posting over on Instagram, but I’ll leave a few more in this post for those who weren’t able to make it out to the show themselves. Do yourself a favor, and if anything like this ever comes anywhere near you, make it a point to go. (And if you live within traveling distance of the Science Museum Oklahoma, go even though this exhibit is no longer showing. It’s worth it.)

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Picture I took prior to totality, by pressing my eclipse glasses against the lens of my phone’s camera.

Sometime when I was a kid, I saw a partial solar eclipse. I don’t really remember much about it besides that we went out to see it during school and we had to wear special glasses. It didn’t impress me too much. Cut to: 2017. I know that there’s an eclipse coming up, and that it’s a big deal, because it’s the first total solar eclipse to be visible in the United States since before I was born, and the first to cut a path of totality across the entire continent in almost a hundred years. What I don’t realize, until I hear people talking about it on the radio, is what the difference between totality and not is.

Olathe, where I live, is going to get something like 99.7% of the eclipse, so I figure, that’s enough, right? But I hear the people on the radio explaining the immense difference between, say, that 99.7% and 100%. Apparently, even 0.1% of the sun is still 1000 times brighter than the full moon. At 100% all sorts of weird things happen. It gets dark as night in the middle of the day, there’s a “sunset” on every horizon, the temperature drops considerably, and so on. So we decide that we want to see totality, which can be accomplished just a short drive away.

Luckily for us, one of our friends has already picked out a spot that’s having a special “eclipse brunch” up north of Atchison, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the totality. So we drive up there super early to avoid traffic, and wait around keeping a wary eye on the clouds in the hopes that we’ll get to see the eclipse. Spoiler: We are not disappointed.

So, prior to actually experiencing the totality, I was pretty keen to see the “day-to-night” effect, but, remembering (or mostly not remembering, as the case may be) my prior experience with (partial) eclipses, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I wasn’t.

I had heard people talk about what being in the path of totality was like in almost religious terms, and I assumed it was overstatement, but it wasn’t. I have never had another experience quite like it. Watching the light drop away was literally like watching someone turn a dimmer switch on the planet. I can understand why people would go so far out of their way to experience this, and why even a few more precious seconds of totality would be worth an awful lot of extra effort. (We were lucky and got more than two minutes.)

Sadly, the eclipse doesn’t seem to have automatically knocked us back into the prime timeline yet, but on the other side of it, at least for today, it really does feel a little bit more like magic is possible in this world.

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The false sunset that was visible all the way around the horizon during totality. Photo taken a few minutes after 1pm.

I’ve been having adventures!

Two weeks ago today, I left town to spend a week in Colorado, just a few minutes outside of Denver. I didn’t spend much of my time there sightseeing, though I did visit a cool movie theatre, catch up with a couple of writing acquaintances, and make several trips to the Flatiron Crossing mall where I bought cool shirts, ate delicious crepes, and picked up a vintage Warhammer Armies book complete with Zoats, Fimirs, and really racist Pygmies. Most of the time, though, I was in the hotel room working while Grace was attending an alto flute workshop. I wrote a 5,000 word story in a day, and also caught up on a bunch of freelance projects.

On the way back from the trip, I stopped off at a dinosaur museum in Hays, one that I had passed I don’t know how many times on similar trips but had never visited. It was amazing, though perhaps the best exhibit wasn’t any of the dinosaur stuff but a giant alligator snapping turtle in a tank just inside the entrance. His name was Levi, and he was apparently unusually active that day, and watching him was pretty much exactly like watching a kaiju swim around.

After I got home I had to start playing catch-up on everything that didn’t get done while I was out of town, including finally getting around to buying a new desk and a new laptop. I’m still working on getting the laptop set up and configured the way I want it, so I’m currently still doing work (and typing this) on my old laptop until I get used to the new one. I got a Lenovo Yoga 910, in case anyone is curious. So far I like it, though I haven’t actually done much with it yet. I also made it out to our local cool movie theatre the Screenland Armour to catch a double-feature screening of Creature from the Black Lagoon and the practical suit-monster short film “Shallow Water.”

Catching up got interrupted a bit, however, in order to have more adventures when, for various reasons, Grace spontaneously decided that she wanted to go fishing and rock hunting his past weekend. I tagged along, made friends with a snapping turtle and a bug, explored what was clearly some sort of troll tunnel, found a mess of snakes and a tide pool, wandered among the flotsam on the shore of a big lake, and mostly had a great time. Shortly after I got back from that trip, I found a box on my doorstep containing a whole pile of copies of the first Japanese edition of Fungi, the anthology of weird fungal fiction I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (The Japanese edition is getting split into two volumes, so this one is just the first half.)

As you can imagine, I’m still recovering from so much adventuring, and also still catching up on work, so if I owe you anything, including responses about getting copies of Fungi from Japan for those of you who were contributors, please bear with me.

934No one is surprised that I’m a fan of Guillermo del Toro. Even when I don’t like his movies, they’re always full of plenty of creative nutrients for me to absorb and convert into something of my own, and his commentary tracks are, invariably, some of the best in the business, and always worth the price of the movie by themselves. Del Toro and Mignola are two influences that have been with me pretty much throughout my writing career, and both have been huge inspirations for me, not least in how they, themselves, proudly display their own influences and inspirations in their work.

So, of course, I’ve always been intrigued by GDT’s bizarre personal museum Bleak House, and when the opportunity came to get a tour of at least part of it in the form of the At Home With Monsters exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of of Art, I jumped at it. Along with some other local writing friends and colleagues, we piled into a couple of cars and made the seven-and-a-half hour drive up to Minneapolis, just long enough to see the exhibit and head home, pretty much.

It’s probably good that we didn’t budget anything else to do while we were there, because I could have spent all day inside the At Home With Monsters. Walking around the exhibit was a lot like walking around a physical projection of the inside of my own head. The overlap between GDT’s obsessions and my own may be less pronounced than mine and Mignola’s, but there’s certainly still plenty of overlap there, and I was overjoyed to find comics that I owned on the walls of comic books that the collection held.

949More than anything, it felt like a creative space, like a direct conduit between inspiration and generation. Highlights included, well, most of the place, really, but perhaps the most exciting was seeing the actual original sketches of one of Mike Mignola’s original designs for the Sammael creature in the first Hellboy movie, which has always been one of my favorite monster designs. I had seen most of the sketches before, but as is always the case with art, seeing it in person was a world of difference from seeing even a high-quality reproduction.

Speaking of that, there were a couple of original paintings there by Zdzislaw Beksinski, including one (unfortunately, I didn’t get the title) that was so jaw-dropping to see in person that I practically had to reach out and touch it to reassure myself that it wasn’t three dimensional. (I didn’t touch it, because the signs specifically asked me not to, but the urge was certainly there.)

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Well, the last few days have been extraordinarily busy and draining for me, to the surprise of probably no one. On Saturday night, I stayed out way too late watching mystery horror movies with the fine folks from the Nerds of Nostalgia podcast, thanks to whom I can now say that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a thing that I have experienced. Then Sunday I was supposed to introduce a screening of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/Richard Matheson adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum at the Screenland, but I got caught in a horrible traffic snarl, and so I ended up talking afterward. (Extroducing it?) I had a book giveaway and did a reading of my story “Guignol.”

Yesterday was my birthday, though I didn’t do a lot more to celebrate than what I’ve already mentioned here, having kind of partied out the night before with the movie marathon. Today I’m not doing a lot either besides catching up from all the aforementioned, but that doesn’t mean that a lot isn’t going on. Since it’s Halloween, we’ve got some special Halloween treats for all of you, including a free story! Head on over to the Word Horde website to read my story “Strange Beast,” about ghosts and kaiju and maybe the ghosts of kaiju absolutely free! “Strange Beast” was one of the original stories I wrote exclusively for Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and this is the first time it’s ever been available anywhere else!

Meanwhile, Simon Berman of Strix Publishing has fast-tracked a little Halloween treat for all those who’re waiting patiently for your copies of the new deluxe edition of  Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. The book contains an all-new story that happens to be Halloween themed, and Mike Corley has been kind enough to show off the excellent illustration that he’s done to accompany it.

Meanwhile, Brian Lillie has assembled a whole passel of authors to make suggestions for suitably spooky Halloween reading. My humble contribution includes tales by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Jon Padgett, and Daniel Mills, all of which have been podcast by Pseudopod. That wasn’t an accident, and one of the reasons I chose to do it was because Pseudopod is currently running a Kickstarter. As part of that Kickstarter, they’re also putting together their first-ever anthology, which includes classic reprints along with all-new stories by yours truly, Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and more! Here’s the newly-revealed table of contents, and we promise you, it’s true.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on lately, but I think for tonight it’s all I’ve got in me. Keep your jack-o-lanterns lit, have a happy Halloween, and always remember to check your candy…

I’ll leave you with what remains one of my all-time favorite Halloween illustrations by none other than the great Chris Sanders, and (unrelatedly) if you’re looking for something seasonal to do this evening,  you could do a lot worse than to plug a few hours into Halloween Forever!

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Those who’ve been around here awhile are probably already familiar with Pseudopod, but in case you’re not, they’re a terrific horror fiction podcast. I sold my first story to Pseudopod clear back in 2009, when I was still three years away from having a book out with my name on it. It remains a favorite, and you can listen to it here.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed a good working relationship with Pseudopod, and sold them a few more stories. The folks who work there are all great people who do great work, and though we (or at least I) tend to think of podcasts as something separate from, say, magazines, there are few horror publications going that consistently produce the kind of quality that you get from Pseudopod, full stop.

This year represents their tenth anniversary, and in honor of the occasion they’re holding a Kickstarter to raise funds to help pay narrators. (They already pay their authors pro rates, making them also one of the only consistent pro-paying all-horror markets around.) The Kickstarter has all sorts of great reward tiers, and one of the most exciting aspects is that the folks at Pseudopod have assembled their first anthology for the occasion, including some classic reprints from their archives but also featuring new tales by Damien Angelica Walters, A.C. Wise, and yours truly, to name a few.

I’m really happy with “New and Strangely Bodied,” the story that I wrote for For Mortal Things Unsung, and I’m excited for it to make its way out into the world. Besides the anthology, there’s a backer tier where you can get every one of my books, in case you don’t have those already, including the forthcoming deluxe edition of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings from Strix Publishing. (And speaking of Strix, there’s also a backer tier that gets you Never Bet the Devil along with Strix’s first publication, The Book of Starry Wisdom, featuring a deluxe illustrated treatment of three of Lovecraft’s stories, along with essays by myself and several other, more notable voices in the weird field.)

But really, I don’t need to be telling you any of this, because a picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s only one thing you really need to know: Look at this freakin’ tiki mug!

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Almost all of this story is true. Or no, wait, maybe most of it is a lie. Either way, I’m not going to tell you which part is which.

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So there we were, standing outside that bar near the Hollywood Theater–the one that isn’t the Moon & Sixpence or a pool hall, I can never remember the name. Pulver had stepped outside to smoke, and I had gone along to continue our conversation about jazz and improvisation and writing and how they all went together. Had I just met him for the first time earlier that day? I can’t remember now. It certainly wasn’t my first HPLFF, but I couldn’t recall if he’d been at the last one, if we’d been introduced. It was definitely the first time we’d talked at length.

I’d heard things about him, of course. Some people said that he was an actual wizard, and I knew that they called him “the bEast,” though I couldn’t figure why. He seemed cuddly enough, with his cookie duster mustache, like Wilford Brimley or a human Lorax. Of course, Wilford Brimley wasn’t so cuddly with that fire ax in The Thing, so I guess you never can tell, right?

Anyway, we were talking, expounding, improvising, when I noticed the shape. Not like the Shape, not Michael Myers or anything, but it was spooky. Just this person sitting on a bus stop bench across the street, like a clump of rags, but seeming somehow too dark in the gathering dusk. Pulver must’ve noticed me watching it, because he put a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s not here for you.”

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That’s the last part that anybody but me knows about; the last part that even I know about for sure. Here’s the rest, though, and you can make of it what you will. The last evening of the Festival, I was walking back from the Moon & Sixpence at the ass end of the night. My hands were jammed in my pockets because it had gotten damn cold, and I was walking fast, my shoulders hunched. I’d had a couple of drinks that night, which was unusual for me, so you can chalk it up to that, if you want.

The neighborhood was deserted by then, even the last dregs of the revelers having finally turned pumpkin-shaped and headed off to one bed or another. I was cutting across back parking lots and through dark alleys, making a bee-line for the shortest route back to my room at the Banfield, when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.

It was in this dark crevice between two buildings–you wouldn’t call it an alley, not really, because it wasn’t wide enough for a car, barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast. The shadows in there were moving wrong, the humped, jerky motion of marionettes with twisted wires. And in the midst of them was Pulver. They were gathering around him, and they didn’t look friendly.

I thought about going to his aid–I may be a coward, but I’m not a complete asshole–but something stopped me, and it wasn’t just the memory of his hand on my shoulder, his reassurance that the shape on the bus stop bench wasn’t there for me. It was something about him, and it took me several skipped heartbeats before I realized what it was. He seemed to be growing, expanding. Like that guy in Big Trouble in Little China, but not funny. He was adding mass, adding height. Like he was drawing something up inside himself, like he was maybe eating the shadows that grew up around him. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

My head spun, and I stumbled. When I woke up, I was in my bed back at the room, unsure whether I had dreamed the whole thing or what. I’m still unsure, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but I’ll leave you with this: I saw Pulver the next morning, while those of us who hadn’t left the night before were still straggling out of our beds and our cocoons. He looked just as he always did, nothing amiss, but when he spotted me across the parking lot, he gave me a wink.

For Joe Pulver