There’s a difficult time when we are young and are just discovering what boundaries are, those invisible lines that each of us has and never wants crossed. The easy thing is learning that there are boundaries, the hard part is knowing where they are with each situation and each person. Each circumstance dictates different behavior and each person demands different boundaries. Learning and respecting these boundaries is part of growing up and is something none of us can fully master. All of us have those awkward moments where we go to hug someone who doesn’t want to be touched, or don’t hug someone who does. We have those moments where we make a joke that wasn’t appropriate for the time or audience. All of us goes through these growing pains.

Welcome to the fun of humanity.

We are at a crossroads, in society, with a lot of issues and ideas and the idea of boundaries is one of those that, while not noticed, is at the base of what is shifting. How far is too far is something we have always struggled with but the shift in gender and sexuality that has been happening has set off a lot of boundary debates. As things shift in society this is bound to happen but we are definitely at a very emotional crossroads that is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to see through.

This past weekend I attended a ‘horror campout’ where you would camp out overnight and be scared over the course of many hours. Think of it as like a haunted house but with camping. The event promised its patrons ‘extreme scares’ and warned there would be dragging. I can’t tell you how extreme the scares were but I did see some dragging, people being tied up, and a young woman being put on her belly with her arms behind her back and someone sitting astride her. All of it unnerved me and made me really start to think about personal and cultural boundaries, especially in relation to haunted attractions.

As I said, all of us have our boundaries, or limits if you prefer and while it takes time to learn all of them once you know them you KNOW them. Sure, we sometimes allow people to push our limits and once in a while it can help us open and grow but most times these moments serve only as bitter reminders of why we have our limits in the first place. Pushing boundaries is about power as much as it is anything else and power can be easily abused.

The thing about haunted attractions is that it lets people live within the horror movie for a short time. They get to face the boogiemen, the ghosts, the demons, the monsters and survive. They get to venture into the darkness and come out in the light at the end. They let us tap into that primal part of us that is so deeply connected to our childhood and for a short time we can get an adrenaline rush with no harmful consequences. The thing is though that the art of the haunt seems to be dying as more and more move to the ‘extreme’ scares. Once upon a time a haunted attraction was about you being put into scenarios or scenes where something or someone would scare you, or at least try. There was a lot of play with darkness, with confusion, with misdirection, and with shock. Slowly the people began being replaced by animatronics, which has been the big trend for the last decade or so. Sure, there are humans in the attractions but most of the scares come from something popping out of you, screaming at you, or flailing in the background of a scene. The animatronic scares work best as backgrounds or when used sparingly but it’s been my experience that the more you lean on them the smaller the scares. The animatronics cannot adapt to the guests and they are so stiff in movement that beyond a slight shock you don’t get genuinely scared. From animatronics the attractions got I gorier and gorier so that people became so accustomed to outrageous scenes of blood and grue that they stopped being effective in unsettling people. Now we are in an era of the ‘extreme’ scare.

What is an ‘extreme’ scare? An ‘extreme’ scare is where the performers can yell at you, scream at you, swear at you, push you, pull you, drag you, and get overall physical with you so you feel threatened and scared. I don’t doubt it is effective for many people. Having someone break through your boundaries can scare you to your core. It can frighten you. People have become so jaded, so indifferent to imagined terror that I can absolutely see the allure of the ‘extreme’ scare. If you can’t scare the guests then your business is shot. The problem is that once you commit to the ‘extreme’ scare…there is nowhere left to go. When people get jaded to being yelled at and pushed around, even having gross things done to them, what then? There’s nothing left. You can’t HARM the people. You can’t KILL the people. So what do you do? Once you break all the boundaries, the boundaries you CAN break, where do you go?


You go broke.

Boundaries exist for many reasons but one of them is so that we can know how much is too much, how far is too far, and when we have had enough. Take the boundaries away, or push them too far then you either break the person or you break the experience. Sure, there are people who love the extremes in life, they wanna be not just pushed but shoved when they do things. Those people have always existed and always will. The thing though is that they are not the ‘rule’, they are the ‘exception’. Most people want to test themselves, see WHAT their limits are but they don’t want to push well past them. Those limits exist for a reason and most people respect that. So we drive a LITTLE too fast, and go a LITTLE too far when we do things that scare us but most of us don’t have an interest in seeing how far we can go because we don’t want to lose control. There is safety in control. Ah, but scares are all about losing control and that’s where the trouble comes in.

To me, the ‘extreme’ haunts are lazy. It’s easy to scare someone, at least for a moment, if you threaten them or put them in situations where they could genuinely be in some danger of harm. It’s an easy scare because there is no skill needed, no art to it, and it’s honestly shooting for the lowest common denominator. If being screamed at and pushed and shoved don’t freak you out then a haunt is not what you are looking for at all. You want something much, much darker. And fine. Swell. Truly, each to their own. But here’s the thing – a haunted attraction is ABOUT the art. It IS the art. There is a roughness to a haunt but there’s also refinement and care and when you take that away you are losing the heart of what makes a haunt so special.

A really good haunted attraction tells a story. It weaves a world where anything can happen and does. It tricks you, if just for a moment, into thinking something could be going on that shouldn’t. I remember when I was 18 and going through a haunt at a haunted hotel and remember them telling us that the place really was haunted and that the ghosts had appeared during the haunt itself from time to time and it amped the experience up because I was LOOKING for ghosts. There was another that I went to a few years back that wove a great story and kept to it. They didn’t mix clowns and killbillies. They didn’t mix aliens and mad bombers. They kept to the story and the things in the story are what came after you. They also used set design to create set pieces that put you on edge. Sure, no one REALLY believes that a boogeyman is going to get you but you want to believe one COULD get you. You have to have a story, something so people have a base to build from. Tell them a place is haunted and their mind fills in blanks. You let the guest do the work for you. Once you have the story you build sets that take advantage of that story and that exploit people’s fears. Rooms that are off kilter, that are dark, that are damp, that have hidden areas, that trick you, or rooms that just seem…off. Next you need the soundtrack, something that isn’t overpowering but which keeps people on edge. Subtlety is best. You don’t want driving music, raging heavy metal, no, you want sounds, nuances that tickle at the back of someone’s spine. The most important piece is the staff. It’s great to have animatronics to fill in and to give an occasional jolt but you want a staff that is dedicated to scaring, can adapt, and knows the boundaries and will keep to them. And again, subtlety is everything. If everyone is screaming or laughing or yelling it kills the mood. You want some to be ‘aggressive’ and others to be ‘passive’, that way the guests don’t know what to expect. You want them to understand that some folks won’t be scared but to still try. When a haunter quits on a group it kills the entire haunt and takes you out of the moment. With a good staff you can do a lot with very, very little.

And that’s it.

None of it has to be really expensive or high tech. Fear isn’t high tech. Fear is low down and dirty and primal but a haunt has to have boundaries. It has to have a line. The thing is, the patron KNOWS there is a line but deep down, deeeeeeep down they don’t know. They worry. They ask ‘what if’. That’s where you can use dummie guests that you CAN grab and ‘kill’ and ‘torture’. If they see it but it doesn’t happen to them then it lets them think ‘what if?’. What if this is real? THAT is the power of a good haunt. It’s meant to be fun, not traumatic. It’s meant to send shivers and give you chills, not give you emotional trauma. That’s what we’ve lost sight of these past few years as the horror arms race has escalated – the fun. I LOVE horror films and attractions that genuinely unnerve me but just as much I like them that have fun and are dedicated to the fun side of horror. The playful scare that wants to give you goosebumps but doesn’t want to harm you. Horror has gotten too mean spirited of late and the haunts reflect that. It’s good to look into the well of darkness but once in a while it’s nice to know that you can look away. Humor has been cut from haunts and it’s a huge mistake. You need the laughter, nervous, uneasy laughter, to set up the next scare. If you push too hard for the entirety of the haunt then it all blurs together and loses its impact. It’s a dull gray roar or fear and not a vibrant rainbow of terror.

The fact is that some people will always want their horror more extreme. That’s fine. It’s awesome. But with a haunt attraction there’s got to be way more craft, way more art for it to be memorable. Why are people going for the extreme? Because there’s nothing else new. No one is innovating. No one is breaking ground. No one is taking from the past and improving it. All we have are mimics of one another. It’s an arms race with mirrors and smoke. There’s a lot to be done with the way haunts are created and run, a lot to be learned, and a lot of fun to be had without going ‘extreme’, it just takes an innovative and creative mind to make it happen.

Me, I am always looking for the unique haunts. I can get ‘extreme’ in any number of ways in real life and for me, I prefer the fun escape of the unreal and not the despairing horror of reality. I’d like to think there are others out there with the same feelings.

Happy Haunting.




First it was one, then two, then three and by the end of the night there were thirteen little bodies washed ashore, their pale peace a startling reminder that brutal life existed outside of leisure in this paradise. The day was overcast and there was no one to witness the landing of the children. No one to welcome them. No one to mourn them. The winds were moderate, the air was cool, and the sky was filled with clouds that while not foretelling a storm did warn that the sun would not be making an appearance. With no sun the tourists stayed away and with no tourists the food vendors stayed away and with no food vendors even the gulls stayed away. The children were alone, together and alone.

They had come dressed for war. Their clothes torn and burned, faded and small. The oldest was ten, the youngest four. They came bearing no luggage. They had no identification. The only other survivor of whatever tragedy that had befallen them was a teddy bear with no head that lay near the feet of a little girl with dark hair and a deep bruise around her throat. The sun rose on the bodies and no one came. The sun reached its height and no one came. The sun began to fall and no one came. There were none to bear witness. None to give forgiveness. None but the water.

But the water did not leave the children.

The water kissed their wounds.

The water caressed their prone bodies.

The water held their hands and whispered that everything would be all right.


Everything would be all right.

By midnight the water had had enough. The children were but three hundred feet from a major roadway and no one, not one person had noticed the horror that lay on the beach. Not one person took their mind away from themselves long enough to give tears to the tragedy that lay in the sand. The water that had risen around the children and had begun to bubble and slowly the mouths of each child opened and in rushed the water, filling each of them with the whisper of the sea.



Come back to me.

Come back to Mother.

Come back to your first Mother.

Your only Mother.

Come back.

The children stirred.

The children rose.

Thirteen children stood silently on a moonless beach, their bodies bent, broken, and bloated from the ocean’s kisses. The ocean roared behind them and the children began to move, slowly, deliberately, holding hands as they walked slowly towards the roadway and the cities beyond them. When the children reached the rocks they helped one another up them until they were on solid ground again beside the road. The street lights showed thirteen children with cold, gray eyes and white skin, hands held, moving slowly towards the world.

They were no longer human.

They were of the sea.

They were loved.

They were angry.

Behind them the brothers and sisters of the children began to make the beach, their bodies far less human, the work of the ocean far stronger, and their purposes far darker. One by one the children of the sea made land and began marching on humanity and the thirteen that had come first all smiled as they went to tell the world of the coming flood.


9.3.15 for my books.

The Man Behind The Screams


The Man Behind The Screams

As I write this the horror world is reeling from the loss of one of its modern legends – director Wes Craven. The loss of Mr. Craven is a bleak reminder that many of the great horror talents from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are entering their twilight years. I certainly don’t want to belabor the point because with the loss of Mr. Craven we should celebrate what he gave to the genre and film in general.

Horror has never had a really great reputation. Most actors seem to think they are slumming if they do a horror film. Critics lambaste the genre as trash. Studios treat horror as if it’s a sort of lottery that you play when you need some quick cash – throwing tropes in with pretty young people and some casual nudity once in a while and BAM you may have another franchise to lean on for some extra bucks. Saying all that, horror does have its advocates and its stewards and Wes Craven was most certainly one of those. Looking through his career he was a man that looked deeper than the blood to find what really frightened people. He was interested in the hidden sins of the family, the savage that lurks just beneath our exteriors, and the frailty of suburban bliss. He was a filmmaker that was just as interested in the psyche as he was the visceral scare. Craven molded horror for three decades with Last House On The Left, A Nightmare On Elm St., and Scream and influenced an ocean of imitators and wanna-bes. Last House captured the utter terror of the death of what we told ourselves were the ‘good old days. It was a reflection of the death of free love. It was the horrors of the world, whether it be an ongoing war or monstrous criminals, coming for us in our beds. Nightmare was truly the sins of the past coming back. It was the idea of the old mentality of taking the law into your own hands and rooting out ‘evil’ in a community yourselves. Nightmare was all about how unsafe we really were in the suburbs and how taking revenge has its consequences. It was truly the rot within the American dream. And with Scream you had a reflection of a generation that was too clever for its own good. A generation that didn’t want to be the hero anymore but wanted to be the villain. That wanted fame at any cost and a world that would grant it, if just for a moment.

You see similar themes in his other films as well, his interest in the Middle American suburban nightmare casting a long shadow over his work because it was right in broad daylight that he knew some of the worst monsters chose to live. Man, he understood, was often the worst monster of all. The savage within, waiting to be coaxed out of hiding.

What is fascinating to me is that Craven created two horror franchises that spoke to essentially two generations of teenagers. While he left the Nightmare franchise until the last film it was the first of those movies that set template for what scared kids of the ‘80’s and the Scream franchise rejuvenated the slasher genre and turn it in on itself. I am not sure there are any other filmmakers in horror history that can lay claim to such a feat. It’s not easy making entertainment that speaks to young people but to do it with two franchises and in two different decades is a heck of an achievement. The effects of both franchises are still felt today as they keep trying to revive Freddy from the Nightmare films and there is currently a Scream television series on MTV.

For me, what made him more important to horror than anything though was his thoughtful, intelligent views on horror as a genre and as a natural part of the human experience. There are a lot of very intelligent people working in horror but not many are as articulate and well-spoken as Craven was. He was a gentleman of horror and he portrayed the genre in a much kinder and smarter light than many seem to see it. He was someone who knew his place in pop culture and embraced it.

You have to give him credit too that he got a chance to do films outside of horror – something few directors that make a successful horror film are able to do. And when he did those films he was not one to act as if he had finally ‘made it’ and was always better than horror. No, he returned to the genre to finish out the Scream series, the hope being to end those movies on a high note as he had been able to do with the Nightmare franchise. We fans don’t like to share our creators, especially ones like Craven who have brought so much to the genre, but it’s nice that he got to stretch himself, even if it wasn’t for many films.

Truly, the loss of Wes Craven is something that horror will feel deeply. His influence is one that will be written about, talked about, but more than anything felt. He was a filmmaker that was able to elevate the genre and yet still entertain and most importantly scare. All we fans can hope for is that he understood how much he meant to us and the genre we love and that future filmmakers will look to him for inspiration and not for someone to ape. That is what Mr. Craven deserves, not just the accolades, but to have inspired other fear creators to not imitate but to innovate and to re-invent horror as he did, and it’s my hope that that is what we’ll see.

Thanks for everything, Mr. Craven.

The Show Must Go On


I have been doing conventions for a long time. A long, long time. Both comic and horror with some art and book festivals thrown in for good measure. This past weekend I went to what was easily the biggest horror con I have ever done – Days of the Dead, Indy. I was so fired up for the show I even booked a room in the host hotel. I know, CRAZY!

It was an interesting weekend. I don’t really have a huge interest in writing a ‘review’ of the con per se because it was a good show, a big show, and there was a ton to do. If you were a fan and wanted to go to a show that gave you the best bang for you buck I am betting this is one of the ones you’d want to hit. I never want to go to shows as a fan just because I figure I’d get bored but man, there were events going late into the night on Friday and Saturday and you’d be hard pressed to be bored if you were looking for some fun. As far as I could tell it was very professionally run, the traffic flow was as good as you could have expected, and people were having a good time. Any issues were the kind of things you have with every show – it’s too cold, I didn’t sell enough, this happened, or that happened, or whatever. That’s the sort of stuff that falls under the ‘annoyances’ category but which I can’t really slam the con for – it wouldn’t be fair. No show is perfect. None.

That was one of the big takeaways for me this weekend was that, as big as this show is and as small as our Flint show was our little show got a heck of a lot ‘right’ in regards to how we ran things. Our experience came from doing community and arts events, not large scale conventions, so we did pretty darn well. We had our hiccups like every show, and limitations, but with what we had…we did pretty darn well. I was always disappointed we didn’t get more folks out to the show but I forget that we were a one day show, which limits attendance. And let’s face it, whatever it is, people will always tell you they are going and not show up. It’s not you, it’s them. It’s life. It makes me happy though to know that we did things right. We always felt like we did but it’s nice to see that, compared to big shows, we were right in thinking that.

I love, love, love the atmosphere of these shows. The ‘freak show’ nature where everyone is doing their thing and flying their particular flag. It was great to see the sheer enthusiasm people have for horror, for the guests, and for everything in between. It’s great. It really is what pure fandom is about, the fun of it all. Fans get painted in a negative light pretty often, especially horror fans, but when you see the fun these folks are having, and talk to them and see how passionate they are you see them not as a stereotype or idea but as PEOPLE. Fans. It’s silly that horror fans are seen as freaks and weirdos because we love things on the dark side, as if watching two people beat the crap out of one another in the name of money and sport is an innocent way to pass the time. Sheesh. And I tell you what, you rarely find more welcoming, friendly, and generous celebrities than you do with the genre films. Not everyone is great but man, most of these folks understand that without the fans they might not be working and they appreciate that. It’s nice to be appreciated!

It does make me sad, I have to say, when it comes to celebrities because I wonder who the next generation will be that will do these shows. There just aren’t the personalities or career horror people that we used to have. Many actors look down on genre work and would never ‘stoop’ to do a convention. It makes me wonder who the next generation will be then to populate these shows. They will find folks but I am not sure if they’ll be as compelling and fun as the generation we have now though.

I had one of those weird things happen to me that happens from time to time that I just…I just don’t get. Once in a while at shows you get the Know It All, the person that feels compelled to tell you what you’re doing wrong, that they don’t like your stuff, that you’re a hack, any number of things that are just nasty and childish to say. Giving unsolicited opinions is something a child does, not an adult with any common sense. Ah, but these people don’t have common sense. There was a woman at the show, a fellow author selling vampire books, who kept wandering around the show being three shades of obnoxious. She came up to me as I was just standing behind my table and proceeded to tell me how well she was doing, incredibly well. Great, I told her, genuinely happy for her because to me, I am not in competition with other writers. I do what I do, they do what they do, whatever. People read what they want. Well she had said this, literally, in passing, and turned to start a conversation with me. She spoke in the most condescending tone I think I have heard in many years and started quizzing me – so you’re the author, so you’re self-pub, oh… She looked my table over, then picked up one of my novels, flipped through it, got a very upset look on her face then said ‘ooooooh, do you have many copies of this?’. I was freaked out because I thought that there was some obvious typo that she’d found. I told her ‘yeah’, because I had a few copies for the show but it’s not like a keep a vast stock on hand. ‘Well, black words on white paper burn reader’s eyes. That’s why they print on off white’ she said matter-of-factly. I was at a loss for words. I had been growing angrier and angrier with her but that was the topper but I kept my cool because I am too old for games and I didn’t really wanna get into some silly vendor war at a convention. I thanked her for that ‘sizzling hot tip’ – something an ex-manager would say, which always made me laugh – and she spun around again, satisfied she had imparted her wisdom on me and heading off, and she gave me a crap eating grin and told me something like ‘any time’ and wandered off. I assume she was drunk. Both times I ran across her she seemed terribly drunk. If not, she’s got issues to deal with. I was not the only author she did this to. She made sure to go by another author I know to pull the same sort of nonsense with him, telling him all about how great she was doing and taking down to him about his work.

She doesn’t know us.

She doesn’t know what we do.

She can be the world’s bestselling author of books about vampire knights but baby, if you got no class, you got no class. She has no class.  I do this because I love it. I wish, wish, WISH I could make a living with my writing but I don’t. It is what it is. I get that some people look down there nose at me for being self-published and I deal with it. I wish I had other options. I don’t. Unless someone wants to read all of my work and prove to me that my work is lesser than much of the garbage dropped into the mainstream market then they can eff off all day and night. It’s funny to me that musicians, poets, and artists are ‘allowed’ to self-publish and produce things themselves but authors can’t. We’re trash if we do. That’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me it’s about ‘saturating the market’ and ‘watering down the talented writing with bad writing’. That doesn’t wash. People choose what they want to read. If I read something I don’t like I don’t punish the world of writing by not reading anymore. I doubt anyone does that. It’s the old guard being afraid of the new wave. Sure, a lot of crap is getting published, but BIG SURPRISE! Look at the bookshelves and you’ll see a lot of crap, but someone reads it so it is what it is.

Back to our friend.

I just don’t get the mentality of talking crap to people, especially people doing something they love. It’s petty, childish, and pathetic.

We ran into her later that night and she said ‘hello author’ as if she had told me to screw myself with a wrench.

The thing too is that her ‘tip’ doesn’t hold a ton of weight. Sure, black on white CAN hurt the eyes, but that tends to fall on the lighting more than anything else. You know why paperbacks were printed on ‘off white’/news print style paper? Because it was inexpensive. There may not be a lot of books printed on white paper but, really? Magazines? White paper. Computer screens? White. Many books? WHITE! If I fail as a writer because of the color of the paper in my books then I am in bad shape.

I wish her well in her writing, I hope she’s successful, but more than anything I hope she wakes up one day and gains a little humility and some better people skills.

It was definitely not a show where I did well though with the books. I don’t feel terribly bad because a lot of the vendors and my author friend didn’t do well either. A lot of the fans were either spending their money elsewhere or not at all. It is what it is. It sucks for me, but fans know what they wanna buy and buy it. I had some sales. I had some nibbles. I got a couple people who were unimpressed I was self-published and some that were surprised at my book output – to which I answer that for ten years all I had to do was write with no publishing outlet so work piles up, as well as ideas. I get the impression that, for whatever reason, my books just won’t do well at shows, at least not horror cons. Again, maybe it’s me. Maybe the books stink. All I can do is promote and sell what I have. It is what it is.

I did realize on this trip that yeah, I am too old for the loud, late-night drunken shenanigans. I sorta always knew this but the trip definitely pressed the issue.

If there was one thing that upset me about the show it was that vendors, our writer friend among the very first, started shutting down at 3PM on Sunday. That really bothers me, as a vendor, as a fan, and as someone who put shows on. It’s unprofessional and it cheats the show and the fans. Things die around then at a three day con, I get it. You start to get antsy, you get bored, and you wanna go home. I even packed up and left at 4:30 because EVERYONE was packing up save two or three vendors by then. There were no fans. It was so bad that the hotel had a scissor lift out removing things that were hung up. If we didn’t have a four and a half hour drive we would have stayed ‘til five, but I still feel bad. I feel worse though for the fans that came for that one day and come to find vendors and guets coming in very late, some hungover. Then to have the vendors shut down early too. Why get a weekend pass? Why bother?

This is why I wish, wish, wish conventions would just move to two days shows. When you take how mediocre Fridays are, and how mediocre Sundays are and put them together you have another solid day, making two solid days. I get that venues, and guests have better prices if you book three days. I get it. But it just makes way more sense. It makes a weekend pass more exciting because you won’t get bored as easily. For vendors and guests it means you don’t have to waste Thursday to get to the show or get ready for it, you can just head out on Friday. Have two, solid days where people may miss stuff but miss it because they were so busy with awesome stuff. I’d rather that than run out of things I wanted to do.

It will never happen, but it’s my dream.

The way vendors treat Sundays it’s basically a non-day anyway right now.

Overall though I had a great time. We saw a lot of friends, bought a lot of awesome stuff, got some photos with celebs, and I don’t regret the trip at all. I am sad that it feels as if another market for my books is gone but it is what it is. I don’t blame a show for that, and I don’t blame the fans, and I don’t blame me. It just is what it is.

If there was a lesson to be learned it’s to have fun, no matter what have fun, then the rest doesn’t sting as much. I also learned that I miss doing our show, but that’s another story.