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On August 2, Kansans will be voting on what many are considering the first major referendum on abortion rights since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as Kansas Republicans force the misleadingly-named (and worded) “Value Them Both” amendment onto the ballot in an attempt to strip Kansans of their most fundamental rights. If you live in Kansas, I hope that you vote your conscience on August 2, but if your conscience is anything other than “no” to this grotesque and inhuman amendment, I hope you take a long, hard look at why that is.

Abortion is a human right. And yet, for decades, there has been a heavily-funded, highly-organized, and often overtly violent right-wing effort to strip this fundamental right from all Americans. It has led to numerous bombings and several outright murders, not to mention the deaths caused by limiting access to vital healthcare, and the constant, targeted harassment. All culminating in a corrupt and extremely partisan Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, leading many states to ban abortions altogether, while Kansas Republicans seek the ability to do so here through this new amendment.

Whenever the question of abortion access comes up, the bad faith arguments are sure to follow. We are distracted by questions of when life begins, of whether or not a fetus has “personhood.” These questions, however, are actually immaterial. There are, of course, reasons to argue that a fetus does not have “personhood” until viability, and that life does not begin until birth. However, those arguments are distractions.

In the United States, it is illegal to take an organ from a person, even after they are dead, without their express permission. Even though those organs would directly and concretely save lives. This is the purpose of registering as an organ donor. In fact, organs donated from a single person can save as many as eight lives, while seventeen people die every day awaiting transplants. Despite this, organ donation after death is not mandatory in the United States and barely more than half of all Americans are organ donors.

What’s more, we can donate kidneys and part of our livers while we’re still alive, yet no one is (or can be, or should be) forced to do so, even when it would save a life. You can also donate blood every 8 weeks or so, and just a pint of donated blood can potentially save three lives. Yet blood donation is not mandatory, even in cases of severe shortages, like those that we experienced during the pandemic.

Most of these are things that inflict absolutely zero harm and virtually no inconvenience, having little or no impact on a person’s life or health. As opposed to pregnancy and carrying a child to term, which can and indeed inevitably do have severe impacts on both, including a maternal mortality rate in the U.S. that hovers around 20 per 100,000 live births – the highest in the so-called “developed world.” In the case of organ donation after death, the harm and inconvenience are nonexistent as you are, after all, already dead.

Despite this, the right for people to decide what happens to their bodies is recognized as eclipsing the importance of saving a life, even when those people are already dead. Corpses in the United States maintain bodily autonomy greater than that which the government seeks to grant to a pregnant individual.

Yet, while there are certainly those who work to educate the public on the value and utility of organ donation, there is no organized movement to make organ donation mandatory, even after death. Certainly, there is nothing anywhere nearly as well-funded as the anti-abortion movement has been for the past 50 years. You will never find picketers outside a funeral home, calling the families of a deceased person murderers because their loved one was not an organ donor.

This is because the anti-abortion movement has no interest in being “pro-life,” as they claim, any more than this amendment in Kansas “values” either parents or children. The anti-abortion movement may be about many things: control, misogyny, racism, keeping poor people poor, and so on. But for many of its most ardent supporters, it is really about one thing: punishing “whores.” And if you press them even a little, they will usually tell you so, in just about so many words.

So, even if you believe that abortion ends a human life, and that preventing access to abortion would save it, ask yourself why you’re so concerned only with this specific instance of saving a life. Ask yourself why you’re not, instead, working to ensure that they pass legislation to increase (or even mandate) organ donation or blood donation that would save vastly more lives while doing less harm. Ask yourself why you’re not pushing for measures to reduce maternal mortality rates in the U.S. Ask yourself why bodily autonomy applies to corpses, but not to those who are pregnant.

I don’t think you’ll come up with any very good answers.

Twenty years ago, I did something that remains the best thing I have ever done: I married the love of my life, my spouse and partner, Grace. We celebrated our anniversary over the last few days, during which time we stayed in an adorable cabin next to a mountain stream, where we were greeted by a rare sight of a heron eating a fish (a good omen, as it turned out). It was a wonderful trip.

The time away from the online world was good for me, but it also means I was away from the computer when a lot of things happened, so let’s tackle a few of those. My new column on folk horror launched at Signal Horizon. I’ll be discussing the subject every month, through the lens (at least for the first year or so) of the All the Haunts Be Ours Blu-ray set from Severin Films.

For this first installment (and the next one; the doc is long) we’ll be going over Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, the extensive folk horror documentary from Kier-La Janisse that opens the Blu-ray set.

Speaking of columns, my others are still moving along, and the latest installment of my board game column dropped at Unwinnable, where I’m writing about Tiny Epic Dungeons this month, a recent Kickstarter acquisition. Meanwhile, in proper “me writing for Unwinnable” fashion, I also recently covered some… very disparate films over there, writing reviews of a pair of kung fu pictures and a “classic” erotic thriller from the late ’90s.

I’ve also been movies editor for Exploits, an Unwinnable publication, for a couple of months now, and my latest acquisition was actually the cover story this month, as David Busboom wrote an unmissable review of one of my favorite weirdo flicks, The Monster Club.

Finally, this one hasn’t happened quite yet, but later this month, Tyler Unsell and I will be hosting a live screening of The Mask (1961) at the Stray Cat Film Center, followed by a live episode of the Horror Pod Class. Will it be sssssssssmokin’? No, it will not. But it WILL be in 3D, complete with special stereoscopic 3D glasses at the door and giveaways, trivia, and vaguely academic discussion to follow.

If that sounds like a lot, think how I feel? I’m gradually getting back into the swing of things this week and there’s a lot more to come but, for now, why not have a drink at The Monster Club. I’m sure a member of the wait staff will be with you shortly…

It’s NaNoWriMo and, for the first time in a year or two, I am not inadvertently participating simply by dint of having so much freelance work on my plate that I write well over 50,000 words in the course of the month – though I do still have a lot of work, so I may crack that number without breaking a sweat anyway.

Instead, I am going to be talking about writing some. Specifically, I will be talking about writing licensed fiction and work-for-hire stuff and how to take inspiration from the movies over at the Johnson County Library Writers Conference. It’s my first time as a presenter at said conference – and my first time presenting online pretty much ever – so I’m more than a little nervous, but you’re all still welcome to come check out one or both lectures/workshops. Plus, there’s lots of other cool stuff going on!

The conference is all online, so you don’t have to be local to the Kansas City metro, and it’s totally free. You can learn more at this here link, and if you want to stop by for my sections, I’ll be talking about writing licensed fiction TOMORROW at 4pm CDT and doing a longer workshop on how to write from movies, rather than for them on Saturday starting at 3pm CDT and running until 5.

The former will be a pretty straightforward talk about how I got into writing licensed fiction (primarily for Privateer Press), its relationship to fan fiction, how it differs from my regular work (and how it’s similar), and what my experience with it has been. The latter will be a more in-depth discussion of both the similarities and differences between film and prose, and how the strengths of one can be adapted to fit the other.

Anyone who has read much of my fiction knows that I draw a lot of inspiration from film, and I at least seem to do an okay job of it. But translating film to prose isn’t a one-for-one process, and knowing how to borrow is perhaps more important than knowing what to borrow.

Both sessions will be recorded and available on the library’s website in the future, if you can’t make it this weekend. In the meantime, I dunno, wish me whatever the Zoom equivalent of “break a leg” is…

Ever since the pandemic started, just about the first question anyone asks who hasn’t talked to me in a while is, “Have you been keeping busy?” To some extent, that’s a time-honored placeholder question, but in my case, it’s also often a question about my overall stability, since I freelance full time and work tends to happen either in drips or in floods.

Happily for me, pretty much ever since the pandemic started, it’s been the latter, rather than the former. There were a few months in there where clients were tightening their belts and I saw some lean moments, but for the most part it’s been feast, rather than famine, when it honestly could have gone either way. Turns out, when everyone is stuck at home consuming content, it can be a good time for the content creators.

Or “good,” anyway. I haven’t churned out a lot of fiction in this time because, let’s face it, my productivity, indeed my general habits and life cycle, have taken a weird hit from all of this, like they have for everyone. But I’ve kept busy with freelance work, the kind that pays the bills, and that’s not nothing.

Right now, I’m buried under one big project that I can’t really talk about, in addition to the usual stuff, and it’s only going to get heavier as its looming deadline continues to loom ever nearer. It’s good stuff – the kind of work that is both fun to do and will be fun to announce, when that’s possible – but it’s also stressful, as any big project always is.

Add to that a number of other factors – most of them secret identity stuff that I don’t really want to get into here right now – and, well, see the subject line of this post. You can see it on my Letterboxd, where May was the lightest month of the year so far, with only 13 movies clocked in the whole month. Unlucky, for some…

And I can feel it in, well, just about everything – a weight that presses down without surcease, a exhaustion that sleep can only do so much to cure. Insert that panel from Watchmen, about being tired of Earth and of these people, the tangle of their lives, etc. It’s not as bad as all that, though. Some of those external frustrations I was talking about are just putting extra weight on what is already a busy period – not only adding stress on top of stress, but making work harder to focus on, harder to do.

Which is all a long way of saying that I might be a little scarce; not that my being a little scarce looks, honestly, all that much different from my being here a lot. I’m still posting to Twitter every day, continuing my year-long daily aesthetic thread, sure, but also posting daily tweet-length flash pieces about giant monsters for the entire month of June. My usual columns and reviews will be popping up, and I’ll be doing other things. Movies at the movie theatre are becoming a thing again, which means the triumphant return of #AnalogSunday, the thing that I missed most of all the many things I missed during the pandemic.

In short, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll just be under the gun a bit, is all.

It’s all-too-easy to get drawn into the soft undertow of minutia and lose track of how much time has passed, how much has happened, what has changed. The sediment shifts so gradually that it seems like each day is largely the same as the one before, even when they aren’t. So, what’s been going on?

I got my second jab of the Pfizer vaccine a week ago and so far there’s nothing much to report. I was tired right after, and my arm hurt for a day or two, but no other ill effects, save for a disappointing lack of monsterism, as I reported on social media. It’s a surprising weight off my shoulders, honestly, given how low-risk my lifestyle is generally, which is good because my shoulders are going to need that extra weight freed up to hold the giant eyeball I’m hoping to get there.

While the production of new fiction remains throttled, I’ve been working on various freelance stuff apace, including forthcoming game writing projects that, for now, have to remain under wraps. (In case you missed the last game writing stuff I was doing, you can read a bit about it here.) I’ve been doing my usual stuff, too, watching weirdo movies and occasionally reviewing them at Signal Horizon and Unwinnable, as well as continuing to write my regular columns various places, ranging from my column on Friday the 13th: The Series at Signal Horizon to my column on board games at Unwinnable to my column on … whatever the hell at Weird Horror.

I’m also continuing to sort of accidentally co-host the Horror Pod Class at Signal with Tyler Unsell, where we talk about horror movies chosen more-or-less at random and try to apply their lessons haphazardly to the classroom. You can watch it live at the Facebook group or stream it wherever you get podcasts. Speaking of which, I recently bought a new permanent addition to my ensemble from 1000 Dead Draculas, which will be making its Horror Pod Class debut on the upcoming Viy (1967) episode.

In hobby-related news, I’ve played a few games of Warcry and more than a few of Warhammer Underworlds, and I’ve continued collecting the various Underworlds warbands as they’re released. Which means that I’m very excited about the recent announcement of the final warband for this season, Elathain’s Soulraid, because it involves a giant crab!

I’ve said before that Mollog’s Mob is never going to be unseated as my favorite band, and that’s still true. It is basically impossible to top a big, doofy monster with mushrooms growing out of his back who is followed into battle by a gaggle of squiggly beasts. But these guys might end up being a close second. Only time will tell…

I also finally got in my first (solo) game of Cursed City, and while nothing may ever quite top Silver Tower for me in the Warhammer Quest category, Cursed City was fun at first blush and, as with Blackstone Fortress (which I’ve owned for months and still haven’t played), the dynamite miniatures absolutely make it worth it, even without playing.

So, it’s been a minute. (Approximately 28,800 of them, actually.) What have I been doing with myself during quarantine? Not what I would have expected, necessarily.

For example, unlike a great many people, I haven’t been watching a lot more movies or television, though, like, I gather, a great many other people, I also haven’t been reading any more books than I was before, maybe less.

Mostly, I’ve been working, and while that’s occasionally been on fiction, more often it’s been on, more or less, the same kind of freelance stuff that I was doing before the pandemic. I’ve also increased the frequency of my appearances on the Horror Pod Class, where we’ve been doing weekly episodes due to the lockdown.

Recent episodes have included talking with author Max Brooks about bigfoots and the reassuring quality of Peter Graves, chatting with Pitch editor and semi-professional podcast haver Brock Wilbur about how, where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see, and just our usual bullshit about cursed films.

None of that new fiction stuff is in any fit state for public consumption just yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some news on that front, too. My story “Screen Haunt” will be showing up in mailboxes and bookstores (if there are still such things) later this year in It Came from the Multiplex, a fun-looking antho from Hex Publishers themed around ’80s horror. My contributor’s copy came the other day, and the book looks fantastic, even if I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Speaking of reading, I somehow managed to swallow down my anxiety enough to perform the narration of my story “Dream House” for Pseudopod recently. (Listen to the story and you’ll hear why.) You have my apologies for the narration, but the story has always been a favorite, and it brings back good memories.

The lockdown means that I haven’t been out to the theater in a while, and there’s been a commensurate slowdown in my reviews of other titles, as well. But I haven’t been idle! Earlier this month, I kicked off the first in a new recurring column that I’ll be writing at Unwinnable in which I talk about the eternal allure of board games … especially those that we pretty much never play.

The first installment talks about playing Horrified in the midst of a global pandemic, which has naturally limited my playing options. I have plans for future installments that will hopefully include, y’know, playing them with actual other people. We’ll see.

On a similar note, I’ve also been digging into 5e D&D for the first time in a while and … enjoying it a lot more than I would have expected. While the lockdown has put certain necessary constraints on my actual playing options, I’ve really been enjoying what we have done, and just paging through the books and acquainting myself with setting and rules. I’m surprised, but happy to be so.

Oh, and I did that Penguin Classics cover generator thing that was going around for a minute there with my books, too. So that’s fun.

So, I guess I posted yesterday’s update a day too soon. No, none of us are sick, still, but last night the Kansas City metro area enacted a mandate to shut down all restaurants (except for take-out and delivery), bars, and movie theaters.

That last one, naturally, is the one that I’m here to talk about, though I have friends and loved ones who work at restaurants and bars who will be directly and irrevocably affected by this.

Please note that I’m not saying that it’s not the right thing to do. I’m not an epidemiologist, and I’m not sure anyone knows what the right thing to do is right now. But I do know that local businesses – as well as those who are employed by them and non-local businesses alike – are going to have a tough time in the coming weeks. Hell, we all might.

The Screenland is more than a movie theater for me. It’s a home-away-from-home; a place where found family congregates. The relationships that I’ve made at the Screenland are some of the best ones in my life right now, and the Screenland is one of the best things about living in Kansas City.

Last night, they closed their doors, and right now we’re not sure when they’ll be able to open them again. If you’re local, help out one of the best theaters I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a movie at by buying a gift card that you can use when this thing blows over. If you’re not, consider donating to help them through a hard time.

We’re all in this together, and hopefully we’ll all pull through together. The Screenland and its people mean a lot to me, so please consider helping them out in this difficult moment.

Hey, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s a pandemic on. About the only thing I can really say for it is that at least it has a name that sounds suitably like something that would have killed us all in a post-apocalyptic movie.

You, dear reader, haven’t heard much from me since it all started – I haven’t even been posting much on social media – but it’s not due to any sinister reasons.

My health is fine. The cough that has been malingering since October is even continuing to clear up at the most incremental pace you could possibly imagine. I wasn’t trampled in some kind of toilet paper-related stampede. Everything is going as well as can be expected, given the circumstances.

I just haven’t been online much, and when I have been, I’ve been working. There are much worse things.

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No one in my immediate orbit is sick. I’ve checked in with most at-risk friends and family members. I haven’t even had to practice much social distancing because, let’s face it, I’m a boring freelance writer who works from home – I usually go out about once or twice a month anyway, and that’s to the movies.

Even for people like me, though, I know that times have been rough. I was supposed to be at the Outer Dark Symposium in a couple of weeks, but that can has now been kicked down the road, thanks to the wisdom of the event organizers. The airline let me credit the cost of my ticket toward a future flight.

Small businesses are already struggling. My favorite local theatre, my home-away-from-home, the Screenland Armour is having a tough time, as all the big movie releases for the next few weeks and even months have been pulled. The people who work there are going to suffer, and there’s precious little that I can do to help.

So far, my work has continued to come in steadily, but who knows what the future holds, at this point? Pretty much everyone I know who can work from home is working from home. Schools are closing. The other day, I posted a photo of an entirely empty bread aisle at the grocery store.

I know that every few years there’s something for everyone to panic over, but I also know that we’ve never encountered anything quite like this in my lifetime. For the most part, I’m not fretting about it any more than I can help, but there’s a lot of free-floating stress in the world right now.

So, if you’re reading this, stay safe and take care of each other.

February has been extremely busy for me so far, and I’m still behind on lots of things from the cough that has kept me a prisoner since the end of October (it’s still here, by the way, but it is gradually weakening). Which is why you haven’t heard from me much in the last couple of weeks.

But last Saturday I went thrifting with Eli (of Analog Sunday fame) for his birthday, then back to his place to watch some weird tapes, as we are wont to do. Thrifting was a huge success, and I’ve been posting some of my loot over on Instagram, if you wanna go be jealous.

I’ve made a few other stops various places while I was out running this or that errand lately, and had similarly great luck, as has Grace in her efforts to track down rare and unusual dice. So, while February has still been extremely busy, it has also been nice.

I’ll take busy and nice. And today, I got an email from a client telling me that I was getting an unasked-for raise on my regular freelance rates from them due to the “consistent positive feedback from our editors in regards to your work.” Which is always a nice thing to hear.

So, not every day is great, but today is pretty good. I’ll take it.

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eye_homepageIt’s that very special time of year again – Panic Fest time! Thursday night was opening festivities featuring Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, while yesterday (Friday) was the first full day of the Fest. Sadly, I’m out of commission today (Saturday), but I’ll be back at it Sunday and into next week.

I’ll be updating social media with one-sentence or so reviews of everything that I see, so if you want up-to-the-minute updates, keep an eye out there or follow along on my Letterboxd. So far, my favorites of the Fest are Extra OrdinaryVHYes, and the aforementioned Color Out of Space, but I’ve got a lot more movies to go.

I had hoped to be over this cough before Panic Fest rolled around, but it seems that isn’t in the cards. In spite of what several people have now tried to assert, this is not my new identity, and I am not going to become a consumptive Victorian dandy with decoratively bloodstained handkerchief. I will shake this cough eventually, but when is anybody’s guess.

I saw the doctor again on Thursday, and the prognosis continues to be that it’s nothing more serious than post-viral bronchitis – essentially minor nerve damage caused by coughing that is, in its turn, causing me to continue to cough.

Those who have been following along for a while now know that Panic Fest is an emotional time for me. It was years ago, at Panic Fest, that I got the call that began a series of tumbling dominoes that ended with my dad’s death – although, of course, that wasn’t the ending, just the beginning of a lot of work and therapy on my part over the intervening years.

But, thanks to that association, Panic Fest became the last weekend for a very long time that I got to feel “normal” for a couple of days. That isn’t the only reason it’s emotional, though. Not anymore, anyway.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed a new family here in the KC area. They’re scattered and scattershot and they aren’t often in the same place at the same time, but if this new family has a living room, it’s the Screenland Armour. And the one holiday that they all gather for is Panic Fest.

Folks like Adam and Tim and Eli and Andrew and Steph and Bryce and Amy and Liz and Blair and Kaleigh and Adrian and Brock and Viv and Tyler and Greg and Jenius and many, many others. These folks have become my Screenland family, and they mean a lot to me, even if I don’t see them as often as I would like, or always know how to say it.

For a long time, Panic Fest represented the last time I was really happy. The last time I didn’t feel like my skin was just draped haphazardly over a jagged jumble of uncomfortable emotions. Now, though, things are better, cough notwithstanding, and I feel more comfortable with myself than I ever did before. And Panic Fest has come to represent something else, too. A new family, and a new place where I feel at home.