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Along with everything else, 2016 decided to give us one last kick in the teeth on its way out the door. Just a few days before the New Year, my adopted dad passed away. I should probably put adopted in quotes, since it wasn’t anything that was ever legal, but he was my dad as far as I was concerned, and I think as far as he was concerned, too.

JT was my friend Jay’s dad. Jay and I met in college. After we had graduated, he lived with Grace and I on a couple of different occasions, rooming with us both in our previous townhouse and in this one. He’s watched more godawful movies with me than anyone else on the planet, which would probably be enough to make him my brother, even if nothing else did. I’ve always been of the opinion that the family you make in life is more family than the one you’re born into, and Jay and his folks are the proof of that.

A couple of years ago–just before Jay got married; I was the best man at his wedding–we made it “official,” and Grace and I adopted JT and Sandy as our parents, too. It just made sense. After all, whenever we were over there, we always got introduced as “and this is my other son, Orrin,” that sort of thing.

When we did that, JT was still vivacious and healthy. Still “just full of it,” as he always replied whenever anyone asked how he was doing. Still telling terrible jokes that Grace couldn’t get enough of. He remained that way after his cancer diagnosis, too. In fact, he kept telling bad jokes pretty much right up until the moment he couldn’t really talk anymore.

Luckily, we went to see them for Christmas this year. It was the last time I would ever see him alive. He passed away just a few days shy of what would have been his 37th wedding anniversary. I bought my first suit to be a pallbearer at his funeral. It was my first time carrying a casket, feeling the weight of it in my hands, solid and surprisingly light, with six of us sharing the load.

I haven’t said anything about any of this for various reasons, and I’m unlikely to say much more than this. Those who’ve been following along online probably didn’t notice anything except my increased absence, which largely went unremarked because I was already absent working on the novel for Privateer Press for the last couple of months.

I miss him, and I know that I’ll continue to miss him, but my grief is so much cleaner, so much purer than my grief when my biological dad died. Unencumbered by trauma or mixed feelings or repressed memories. I loved JT, and I miss him. Simple as that. And I’ve still got family in the form of Jay, Veronica, and Sandy. It doesn’t make it any less painful, but it does make it easier to carry, and that’s not nothing.

If you follow me on social media (or, heck, even if you follow me here) then odds are you won’t notice much difference, but nonetheless, I felt it needed to be said that for the next two-and-a-half months or so, I’m going to be diving hard into a big freelance project that’s clamped down tight under a non-disclosure agreement, so there’s a good chance that I won’t be posting a lot here until sometime early next year.

Given that I already don’t post a whole lot on here, the change may not be very substantial, and as I said, if you follow me on social media, you’re likely to continue to see me around, as I’ll need to come up for air from time to time. That said, if I follow you on social media, then apologies in advance if I miss a lot more of your posts than usual over the next couple of months. Things are going to be a bit hectic around here. (More on it as soon as I have the freedom to share.)

Considering how hectic things have already gotten over the last few days, I had a good birthday and a quiet but otherwise good Halloween, even if I did end up turning in before midnight for maybe the first time in my life. (My pumpkin stayed lit, though, so I’m okay.)

Also, perhaps a bit surprisingly, perhaps not, I watched more movies in the month of October than I ever have in a single month since I started keeping my movie journal. 47, all told, which is probably what happens when you spend most of the month recovering from a tonsillectomy and unable to do much of anything (including sleep) besides stare at a flickering screen.

Of those 47, 26 were new to me, keeping nicely with my “more movies that I haven’t seen before than movies that I have” goal for 2017.

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!

chris-sanders-halloween

Last year, just before I left for Panic Fest, I received a phone call about my dad’s failing health. It wasn’t the first such call, and it wasn’t the last, but that Panic Fest sticks in my mind as the last time for a long time that my dad’s illness, death, and the subsequent emotional and mental fallout therefrom wasn’t heavily on my mind. I didn’t really realize how much Panic Fest had become the symbolic anniversary of all those things for me until this weekend rolled around.

I had been planning to help work the fest, but for various reasons that didn’t come to pass. And it turned out to be a good thing, because I got buried in some quick-turnaround deadlines that kept me busy much of the weekend. I did make it out to say hello and pick up a couple of Funko minis, but I wasn’t able to stick around and enjoy the festival. Maybe next year.

What I did instead–besides work on the aforementioned deadlines–was have a rougher-than-expected weekend. It took me until this morning to figure out why, to connect the occasion of Panic Fest to my memories of all that I’ve been struggling with over the past year and change. I know that I’ve come a long way in that time, and that I’ll be all right, but it hit me hard today.

To the folks at Panic Fest itself: Sorry I wasn’t able to make it more, or stay longer. It was great to see everyone for the brief moment that I did, and thank you guys for being a pleasant memory in the midst of a lot of unpleasant ones.

Well, so far this December I’ve posted all of one time, though, y’know, that was a write-up of Krampus, so at least I’ve got my priorities on straight. (Speaking of Krampus, the latest episode of the great Werewolf Ambulance podcast not only covers that very film, but also gives a great shout out to my own review!)

December has been pretty busy, with a variety of deadlines crowding around me like cats at feeding time, so I’ve been at least kind of keeping my head down and working on those, while also, y’know, distracting myself by getting vaguely addicted to buying those Funko blind box horror mystery figures again. This means that I haven’t done much else, including that I haven’t yet seen Star Wars Episode 37: Chewbacca’s Delight, though everyone’s enthusiasm for it has finally been infectious enough to convince me to try seeing it in theatres sometime after Christmas. (And after I see Hateful Eight in 70mm. Because priorities.)

do have several year-end write-ups in the works, including my annual Year in Creatures report, but those are going to have to wait until a little closer to the actual end of the year. I’ll be out of town for Christmas, so I may be a bit scarce online for a few days, though you’ll probably still see me on social media posting random observations or pictures of weird things I see along the side of the road.

In the meantime, I figured I should drop by here and mention that Painted Monsters continues to receive very kind reviews, including probably its most glowing review to date (and, honestly, if that is the most glowing review it ever receives, I couldn’t complain). And I got a pretty amazing Christmas present in the form of a Painted Monsters ornament, courtesy of my fantastic publisher Ross Lockhart at Word Horde.

Ornament

That’s it from me until after the holiday. In the meantime, stay warm, enjoy the lights, and have a pleasant time, whatever you may celebrate, if anything.

So. August.

Recently, I picked up a temporary part-time job helping out at a local college bookstore for a few weeks. I did this for a variety of reasons, partly because money has been a little tight, partly to see how a part-time job would impact my freelancing schedule without a lot of commitment. What was supposed to be a 12-hour-a-week job when I applied for it is shaping up to be more like 25-30 hours a week, so how it’s impacting my schedule is: a lot. That said, and as is inevitably the case, work has also picked up, and August is already looking to be a very busy month for a handful of different reasons. These two things together are putting a strain on my free time, to put it mildly.

Something more is going on, though. 2015 has been a rough year. Not exactly bad, necessarily, at least not all the way through, but rough. Lots of exceptionally good things mixed in with lots of exceptionally bad or difficult ones. I think I’m just now starting to really get the distance that I need from the things I learned and experienced at the beginning of the year in order to really understand the damage that it all did, and that’s taking some adjustment to get used to. Which I guess is all a long-ish way of saying that, if you don’t hear from me much this month, don’t worry too much about it. If August does manage to kill me somehow, I’ve already left instructions on social media for my corpse to be propped up in front of the computer so it can try to finish my deadlines, Weekend at Bernie’s-style. More likely, I’ll emerge from the other side of this month as I have emerged from most everything else up to this point: Battered, perhaps, but ready for another round.

Two weeks ago yesterday, my dad passed away peacefully from renal failure. I posted about it to Facebook and social media, but I didn’t say anything here because, at the time, I didn’t really feel up to it, and I don’t have a lot to add about this whole experience, or about my relationship with my dad, that I didn’t already cover. Besides which, in the weeks that have intervened, some other stuff came up that I wanted to talk about.

My dad had been sick for a long time, and on dialysis for over a year. Even if my relationship with him had been perfect, I would have welcomed the end. Caring for him was taking a huge toll on my mom’s health, and about a week before he passed away, she suffered from a mini-stroke, which she fortunately caught before any significant damage was done, and which the doctor’s chalked up pretty much entirely to stress.

I’m grateful that hospice was there to give my mom some respite and to make my dad’s last days as painless as possible–for him and for us. By mutual agreement, there won’t be any funeral or memorial services. My mom is doing well and taking it easy for the first time in a long time. I’m searching for something to say to wrap this up, but there really isn’t anything. I guess I just mean this to be a marker, to say, “This happened.” I don’t have any more insight than that. So there it is. This happened.

I’ve been struggling for a week now about writing this post. In the past, I’ve kept my problems and my anxieties mostly off this space, kept them to myself. But one of the things I’m learning is that bottling these experiences up leads to shame and recrimination and self-loathing, and I’ve got plenty of all of that, thanks, so I’ve been trying to be more open, and so far I’ve been met almost unanimously with support, and with a heartbreaking yet also extraordinarily validating number of people saying, “Yes, me too, I’ve had the same experiences.”

I’ve talked before about my dad’s declining health, and I’ve touched upon the fact that he and I have never had a relationship that could be considered either good or uncomplicated. On Tuesday morning, my mom and I met with the hospice people to talk about transitioning my dad off dialysis so that he can (hopefully) die relatively peacefully at home. It’s something that I think is the best scenario for everyone involved, my dad included, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy.

The hospice people say they’ll do everything they can to make the transition a smooth and painless one, and I believe them. I hope they’re right, and that “everything they can” turns out to be a lot. Unfortunately, there’s no clear time frame for something like this. It could take days, or it could take months, and in the meantime it’s fraught with landmines of painful minutiae. As just an example, after meeting with the hospice people, my brother and I went back to my parents’ house and painstakingly unloaded and hid every gun that my dad owned, boxed up the ammo and sent it home with my brother. This at the urging of the nurses, who tell us that, in his state, there’s a very real danger that, if my dad got hold of a loaded gun, he might hurt my mom or himself or someone else, possibly without even knowing what he was doing.

And yet, that’s still just the easy-to-explain tip of the vast, complicated, messy, confusing, and very difficult-to-explain iceberg of what I’ve been dealing with for the past few weeks. I’ve said before that my relationship with my dad was never good, and that’s true. As a child, he made me feel worthless, as though nothing I ever did or liked or wanted or cared about mattered at all. He never showed me any affection in any way that I could understand. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to accept how much of the anxieties and the feelings of depression and shame that I struggle with can be traced back to him, and more recently yet that I’ve come to understand the extent to which he did the same things to my mom and my older brothers.

Dealing with all of this has led to panic attacks, at least one of which was severe enough that it probably qualifies as some sort of dissociative state. I’ve never slept well, and the last few weeks it’s been worse. It doesn’t help that the sleeping pills that were helping have recently become prohibitively expensive, so I’ve been trying to switch medications, searching for a reasonable substitute that will do the job adequately.

And even that isn’t anything like the whole story. I’ve also been recovering memories of sexual trauma that I experienced as a very young child, memories that I had very carefully repressed, boxed up, and dutifully ignored for pretty much my entire life, until they became blind spots in my mind, ones that I couldn’t look directly at and that I never told a single person about until a few days ago. I don’t want to go into any details, and I don’t think that doing so would do any good, but suffice it to say that I was sexualized at a much too early age, and not given the tools or support that I needed to cope with those experiences, which led to repeated inappropriate encounters and my being taken advantage of, seldom, if ever, by adults, at least that I can remember now, but usually by older kids.

Recovering these memories has been painful and confusing and terrifying. When I think about them, though they happened decades ago, they are so visceral and immediate that I have the same physical reaction as if they were happening to me again right now, regardless of my actual physical surroundings. And yet, at the same time, remembering them has already begun to help me. They’re the missing piece of a puzzle—really, a lot of puzzles—that have never made much sense to me until now.

While the memories have nothing overtly to do with my father, thematically, they resonate very strongly. Like him, they made me feel worthless, like I deserved to have bad things happen to me, like affection was a commodity that I had to trade something for. They made me feel like anything I wanted was bad, that it would ultimately hurt someone else, or be used by someone else to hurt me. They made me feel alone, and ashamed, and like it was my fault.

This time has been very difficult, and I imagine that the difficult times are not yet behind me, by any means. But I’m seeing a very good therapist, and trying some new anxiety meds that are already doing wonders. I’m learning coping strategies, and little things I can do to take care of myself. I have a supportive and loving wife, and a vast network of incredibly generous friends. I believe that I will come out of the other side of this better able to care for myself than when I went in.

As I’ve said, this is all normally the kind of thing that I would keep to myself, and putting it out here is a very frightening experience, but I’m doing so for a number of reasons. Partly, because trying to explain it again and again is very painful, so I’m hoping to explain it once, and then point any future explanations back here. Mostly, because I think that a lot of us tend to hide these things, keep them secret, and that doing so only contributes to our feelings of shame and worthlessness. I want anyone else who might read this who has ever gone through anything similar, or anything else that made them feel these sorts of ways, to know that they’re not alone, and that they can reach out for help. I want to convince everyone—myself included—that you’re not worthless, and that you don’t deserve to be hurt, and that in spite of what’s happened to you, you can still have the chance at a rich and full and joyous life complete, in my case, with comic books and monster movies and whatever other “silly” things make you happy, even though it may not feel like it right now.

(Was actually a few days ago, I spent it watching The Babadook, but this was already starting when that happened, and came to a head shortly after, and I thought it made a good post title.)

For those who don’t know, my dad has been sick for a long time. When I wasn’t even a year old, the doctors told him that he wouldn’t live five years, and that if he lived one, he’d be bedfast. Which is to say that he’s been on borrowed time my whole life, and for most of that, he was in pretty good health. The last few years, though, his health has deteriorated rapidly, and there’s no real likelihood of him getting anything but gradually worse and worse.

Earlier this week, my mom and one of my brothers took him to the emergency room, and he spent Christmas in the hospital. They’re still running tests, and as of today we don’t know anything more than we did when we took him in. But really, at this point, there’s nothing to learn except how long or short the timeline is, how bumpy the road from here to there.

I’ve never been exactly close to my dad, we didn’t see eye-to-eye much when I was growing up, and that hasn’t changed a lot now that I’m on my own. But I have always been close to my mom, and this is taking its toll on her, and regardless of the whys or the wherefores, all of this has hit me pretty hard, especially this most recent time. Maybe it’s just the futility of all of it, the sheer number of repetitions of this same scenario, the fact that we all know that this train only goes one direction. I’m not really sure, and I don’t really want to analyze it too closely, but it means that the last few days have been rough, and I don’t know how soon the days will stop being rough.

I’m also dealing with a few health issues of my own–nothing life-threatening or even particularly serious, just annoying and draining–and a barrage of unexpected medical bills and increased prices on medications and various other quotidian woes and so on that have all taken their toll. In spite of that, I had a good Christmas. I spent quality time with friends and family that I am close to, received thoughtful gifts, and didn’t give as many in return as I would have liked.

In general, I try to keep this kind of stuff off my web presence. I’m not here to talk about this sort of thing, I’m here to talk about monsters and ghosts and such nonsense. But I felt weird about not mentioning this, like if I didn’t at least put it out there, someone would start to notice something a tiny bit brittle about my usual facade. So here it is.

There’s not really anything for anyone to do, or to say. Just bear with me, as I try to make the best out of whatever I have to work with.

When I was very young (around 7, if I’m doing my math properly) I caught a few episodes of a syndicated horror anthology show called Monsters that I had to stay up late to watch. I don’t remember how many episodes of it I actually saw, but I know that I saw at least two of them, because those two remained stuck in my memory for years. Or, parts of them did, anyway. Recently, I tracked down the names of those two episodes, and last night I watched them both on YouTube before I went to bed.

Apparently, those two episodes (in spite of not being next to each other in the series) were once released together on VHS. That’s not how I saw them, though. For all that they seem to be the only two episodes I can remember, I know that I saw them both on TV. However, someone pulled the show off the VHS, and so both episodes are available together and in full on YouTube, which is how I watched them.

Monsters

Before I started, I remembered only a couple of things about each episode. The first, “Parents from Space,” I remembered almost nothing about. The story concerns a couple of raccoon-like aliens who come from space and take over the bodies of a little girl’s abusive foster parents. All I remembered was being really bothered and frightened by the ways the foster parents abused the girl (a specific scene in which her foster father kills a hamster really stuck with me, though in my memory it was a bird instead, for some reason) and being completely terrified of the initial appearance of the aliens. Upon revisiting, they are a little creepy, in a kind of muppet-y sort of way. (That’s them, in the top picture on the VHS box above.) Many a night, when young me was trying to go to sleep, I’d imagine seeing much scarier versions of them staring in my window.

The second episode, “Pillow Talk,” I remember much better. It’s very much the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Tales from the Crypt, only less gory, of course, since it’s on network TV. It’s about a successful horror writer who gets all his ideas from an ancient Lovecraftian monster that’s masquerading as his bed. (Yes, it’s a killer bed story!) He has to lure attractive women to his bedroom in order to feed them to the creature, naturally. I remembered the bed monster, with its mouth-tentacles and rubbery maw, and I remembered the obligatory twist ending. In fact, I seemed to remember most of this episode, though I had forgotten how ridiculously awkward the main guy (played by John Diehl, one of the only other characters is played by Mary Woronov!) was. Jeffrey Combs would have completely owned that role, if that gives you any indication.

Revisiting these episodes, I have no idea why they stuck with me so intractably for all these years. They’re pretty standard horror television from the time period, though the monsters are actually pretty good for a low-rent horror TV show from 1988. Any show called Monsters is going to automatically have my attention, though, and the episodes are short, so maybe I’ll catch a few others on YouTube and see if I remember anything else.

(Because they are on YouTube, and recorded off VHS or TV, they look like crap, of course. But if you’re curious, or if you, too, remember these episodes from your own misspent youth, here they are below, if you want to sample.)