October 30

A Halloween Treat

I’ve loved scary stories since I was a wee lad in South Florida, and one of my favorite things to do on Halloween was break out a vinyl album of mine. The album was Alfred Hitchcock presents Ghost Stories for Young People. It was released back in 1962 and I think I found it in a record store when I was around eight or nine years old.

I listened to it so many times when I was young I had it memorized…but it still gave me the shivers. Unfortunately, the original vinyl was lost to time, but I was lucky enough to find it on CD a few years ago. Of course, nowadays you can find almost anything online, and someone was awesome enough to post the entire album on YouTube.

If you’re looking for some Halloween chills, give it a listen. Hitchcock is a fantastic narrator, and the stories, while creepy, also contain a little bit of dark humor. It may be geared towards children, but this middle-aged man still loves it.

Note – the stories are broken out into separate videos, so be sure to listen to all of them!

Enjoy!

October 27

The Art of Fear

Why are horror and fear popular subjects in the art world? For centuries, we’ve continued to seek out ways to scare ourselves and we keep coming back for more. Join me as I explore the reasons behind our obsession with fear and how we explore it in our artistic output.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, Amazon, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can listen to it right here:

October 26

A Little Creativity

I find myself constantly amazed at the creativity shown by people during this pandemic. Yesterday I watched a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about how people are changing their Halloween plans to make them safer. Some of the adaptations included a long-distance candy dispenser for the trick-or-treaters and drive-through haunted houses.

I think it’s fantastic that people are willing to put in a little effort – and imagination – to keep spirits high in a time when we’re all feeling the pressure.

But the creativity doesn’t stop there. I was talking (online) to a friend who told me that over the past weekend he not only learned how to play bingo via Zoom, but also attended a Zoom-based murder mystery party. I didn’t have a chance to get all the logistics behind it, but I can’t imagine how they set that up. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly creative way to bring people together and interact while still remaining relatively safe.

I know, we hear a lot about people complaining about the lock downs, the social distancing, the mask wearing, but I look at this all as an opportunity. Think about it – we can look at all this as some massive pain in the ass that has turned our lives upside down and created chaos, or we can look at this as an opportunity to try new things, to do things in a different way, and to see just how creative we can be.

Don’t let the situation sour your perspective. Sure, things sort of suck at the moment, but you can still make the best of it. Improve yourself, help others, and most of all, be creative. You may have some hidden talents you didn’t know you had. All you have to do it try something new and see what happens.

RB

October 23

Tough Choices

Choices are a part of our lives, so deeply ingrained that we usually don’t even realize that we’re making them constantly, every day, without hesitation. Most of these are simple choices, like when to pull the eggs out of the pan, or if the water in the kettle is warm enough for tea. We don’t give it much thought, we just let our instinct guide us.

And if you think about it, you probably don’t spend too much time wondering about what you’re having for dinner. Leftovers in the refrigerator or swing by a fast-food place to pick up something? If it’s the latter, then you look at the drive-thru menu for a couple of moments to decide which combo looks interesting, pay your money, then back home.

But there are other decisions to be made. I know that, when writing, I deal with hundreds, maybe thousands, of decisions in each story I create. A lot of them are quick and mindless, like some of the ones I mentioned above. What color car is my protagonist driving? Or is going to drink his coffee black or add creamer? Others will make me pause for a few moments while I consider the possibilities. If my character goes down this path, what happens? Would it be better if they went this other way? Usually, I let the character decide and move on.

Then there are the tough decisions.

The toughest ones are when you know it’s going to change the entire course of your story. I had that happen to me on a yet-to-be-published short story I’ve been working on. I had a basic idea in mind and about three quarters of the way through the story I could see the ending develop. I was excited because I could see the path ahead leading to a solid conclusion.

But then I hesitated. Why? Because my stupid imagination piped up and asked, “what if you killed off this one character?” At first I dismissed the thought. Why try to change anything now when I’m so close to finishing the draft? That would be madness, right? Probably, but I couldn’t help myself.

So I took a few days off from the story so I could give this idea some additional thought. “What if?” is such a powerful question to ask oneself when writing. In fact, it’s a powerful question to ask in life, as well. After some consideration I decided to try that alternative story path. It was sort of a pain in the butt because I had to back up a bit in the narrative and rewrite some sections, but I did what needed to be done. And it was bloody.

And how did it turn out, you ask? Not bad. At least, it feels satisfying to me. It’s not what I was expecting, which in a way is a good thing, but I don’t know if it’s necessary better than what I was shooting for.

When it comes to writing – and art in general – tough decisions are just part of the process. Luckily, they don’t pop up in every story I write. But much like in life, we come to a crossroad and we have to consider the possibilities. In this case, I had to decide what worked best for the story. It wasn’t about what I wanted to do. Sort of like a parent with their child, I had to let my story loose and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t, but I believe we have to take chances as artists. We never know if something will work out unless we try it.

RB

 

October 21

A Challenging Read

While I’m a fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, I don’t limit my reading list to those specific genres. I feel that, as a writer, I need to expose myself to a wide variety of ideas and input. Plus, my interests are all over the place, so if you took a peek at the stack of books on my shelves you’d see everything from astronomy and biology to biographies and fiction from almost every genre.

Currently, I’m reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and it’s possibly the most challenging book of fiction I’ve read. And this is despite the fact I’ve watched the movie multiple times over the years. It’s one of my favorites.

I’ll post a full review once I’ve finished it. I’m currently a little over halfway through this beast and, while I’m loving the story, it’s so incredibly dense with details and obscurities that it’s taking me a long time to read. And don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the adventure.

Eco is an incredible storyteller, and this medieval monastery murder mystery (alliteration intended!) is well-plotted. But what’s getting me is the almost overwhelming amount of detail he’s incorporated into the story. I’m finding that I have to pause every few pages to look up architectural details he’s described, or to translate some obscure passage from an ancient book of African poetry, or simply to translate some bit of latin. All those years growing up Catholic, you’d think some of that Latin would have stuck in my head. There’s also a great deal of theology and philosophy, so a few passages require a re-read or two to make sure I’m understanding it all.

Of course, it would probably have been easier for me to read it on my Kindle so I could have the footnotes and translations readily available, but no, I bought this one in hardback. It’s a keeper and a fine additional to my unwieldily home library.

I feel like in reading this book, I’m not only being entertained, I’m being educated. My Catholic background helps a bit. I’m familiar with a lot of the ceremony, the prayers, the traditions, so I can easily relate to many aspects of the story. But Eco did so much research into obscure parts of the religion that I find myself both confounded and impressed.

I’m hoping to finish the book by the end of the month, but I don’t want to rush it. This is a book to savor, to enjoy, to relish.

Now, back to it!

RB

 

 

October 19

Mesmerizing Music

Maybe it’s just me, but there are certain songs that, when I hear the start to play, make me stop whatever I’m doing so I can listen. It’s like they have power over me, pulling me away from the present moment and whisking me away to another place for a few minutes.

There aren’t many that can do that to me. And one of the interesting things is that they aren’t necessary similar. Sure, there’s may be a little bit of crossover – genre, style, instrumentation – but for the most part they are unique.

So with that said, I thought it might be interesting to share a few of them with you and, maybe, broaden your horizons a bit. You may have heard of some of these artists and these songs, and if so, fantastic! And for what it’s worth, I was inspired by another blog I follow, View from the Back, where Sheree posts Song Lyric Sundays.

Today I’m sharing a song that never fails to give me chills, especially this version of it. The artist is Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey native who came to prominence in the 1970s, hit an amazing peak in the late 70s/early 80s, and continues to release well-crafted and thought-provoking music.

Springsteen is now in his 70s and shows no signs of stopping, which is fine by me. His music, especially his lyrics, have been an inspiration to me since I was a kid listening with headphones as his vinyl albums spun on the turntable. He’s an amazing lyricist, capturing a unique perspective on the lives of blue-collar and downtrodden people. Not all his songs are bleak, though. He can slip between melancholy and upbeat with a snap of his fingers. Or a strum of his guitar.

The song in question is titled Thunder Road, and while it sounds like a rocker, it’s actually a thoughtful look at a young woman about to transition from child to adult from the perspective of a man who’s trying to convince her to join him as he tries to escape his current life. The album version is wonderful, but my favorite version is from a concert he did at the Odeon in London in 1975. It’s a slower, sparser arrangement that’s just about perfect.

Here’s the video, lyrics are posted below. Hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

The screen door slams, Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside, darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero, that’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks

Oh oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road, oh Thunder Road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late, we can make it if we run
Oh oh oh oh Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold, Thunder Road

Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk
And my car’s out back if you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free
And I know you’re lonely for words that I ain’t spoken
Tonight we’ll be free, all the promises will be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned-out Chevrolets
They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind, so Mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers, I’m pulling out of here to win…

Music and Lyrics: Bruce Springsteen

____

RB

October 14

Old-School Scares

I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was a kid. Growing up in South Florida, every Saturday morning one of the local television channels showed Creature Features starting at 10:30. And every weekend I’d tune in to watch the old black and white Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy movies. They’d also show the Godzilla flicks, along with some of the other giant monster movies that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Oh, and the occasional Hitchcock film.

I’d lay on the living room floor, wrapped in a blanket and holding one of my stuffed animals, and would peek through my fingers as whenever the creature of the week appeared on screen. Despite my fear, I always came back for more.

Later, in my teen years, the movies evolved. The slow-burning horror and scares became more graphic. There was Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and one of my favorites, Dawn of the Dead. The blood and guts didn’t really bother me, it just added a gross-out factor the the films. Besides, they were sort of fun, mostly because many of them were predictable. Couple having sex? Dead. Young woman in the shower? Dead. Wandering in the woods after dark? Dead. I probably should have watched them with a horror movie bingo card in hand.

At some point another evolution occurred and the genre moved into territory that I just can’t get into: the torture movies. Also often referred to as torture porn. Instead of the victims being killed off quickly – albeit sometimes messily – it was over and done with and the film moved on. Now, however, the victims are slowly tortured, and some of the scenes go on for what seems like forever. To me, that’s not scary, it’s just perverse.

I’m not saying the movies shouldn’t be made. There’s obviously a market for them and it’s still giving these movie-makers the opportunity to be creative. I’m all for that. I mean, I can appreciate the artistry that goes into creating a graphic, bloody death scene. I’m a fan of practical special effects and – when I was a kid – dreamed of working as a special effects artist.

It’s really personal taste. The torture movies just aren’t my thing. I’d rather watch an old Hitchcock movie than Human Centipede. I feel like the best scares are the ones that are partially left to my imagination. Hearing the screams coming from off-camera, the vague sound effects, shadows on the wall hinting at something sinister, is all fuel for my mind. To me, that’s the best kind of scare. What I can come up with in my head is going to be much darker than what I see on screen.

So this October I’ll be doing what I usually do, and that’s revisiting some of those classic horror films from past decades, enjoying the building tension, the ambiance, the mystery. And then I’ll use all that to feed my imagination when I sit down to write.

Boo!

RB

 

October 12

New Podcast Episode – The Monetization of Art

We all dream of making money off our art, but how realistic is that dream? In this episode, I talk about how the monetization of art has changed over the centuries and what modern artists can – and should – expect from the market.

The podcast is available at iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, Amazon, and PodBean. If you prefer, I also have a YouTube channel.

Or you can listen to it right here: