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 28

Setting the Spooky Mood

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it’d be a good time to recommend a couple of things to get you in the mood.

First, you can grab a copy of my dark fiction collection, Dark Journeys. It’s a mix of horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction. Perfect for reading alone in a darkened room (if you’re using an e-reader) or by candlelight (if you grab the paperback version). The stories include seductive demons, patchwork lovers, marooned astronauts, and an assortment of creepy things to haunt your dreams.

If you’re looking for something auditory, then you can listen to a couple of my podcast episodes. Last year I read one of my short stories, Consumed, for my Halloween episode. More recently, I recorded an episode about the Art of Fear. The first one will give you a few chills, while the second one will inspire.

There’s no shortage of horror-related stuff out there for the discriminating fear aficionado, and nowadays you don’t need books or movies, just read the news and you’ll be horrified.

Man reading burning newspaper
Photo by Nijwam Swargiary on Unsplash

Stay safe, everyone!

RB

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 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 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 5

Where is my Muse?

There are times when I stare at a blank screen and wonder when the words will come. It doesn’t happen often. I’m lucky in that I can always find something to write about. But on occasion, well, my Muse seems to be on vacation.

Personally, I think she just needs to recharge every so often. The way I look at it, our brains run on electricity. All those synapses firing off billions of times every minute, all those thoughts processing, ideas forming, opinions, fears, hopes, dreams. It’s like a mini-universe unfolding.

And all that processing eats up resources. Not necessarily memory. I’m sure I have a few petabytes still available. No, I’m referring to the the actual effort spent thinking about everything. Day to day thinking coupled with creative endeavors can push the brain to the limit. And then what?

Exhaustion.

I think mental exhaustion is more crippling than physical exhaustion. And that’s what it comes down to, the brain is just out of energy. I’ve found the only real cure is a good nap. Or a good night’s sleep. Rest, recuperation, and magically my Muse saunters back into the room, adult beverage in hand, ready to get back to work. Ta-da!

I often wonder if one of the main causes of Writer’s Block is simply due to being mentally tired. I know that when I am, I have a hard time concentrating, keeping the words flowing, even getting the words to make sense. And yes, it can cause frustration and anxiety. The Muse, much like a child, gets cranky and stubborn, refuses to do anything, and pouts.

When I feel she’s getting to that point I know it’s time to take a mental break and rest. Not surprisingly, it’s resulted in my productivity going up. When I take the time to recharge I end up writing more. I used to try and push myself, thinking that any time spent away from the keyboard was just wasted time. But now I know that isn’t true. Taking a little time to recharge the batteries actually makes me a better writer, a more productive writer, and a happier writer.

With that said…time for a nap!

RB

 

October 2

Carnivorous Cultivars

If you follow me on social media you may have seen a few posts about my carnivorous plants. I’ve been fascinated with them since I was a wee lad and my father bought me a Venus fly trap from an ad I saw in the back of a comic book. The poor thing didn’t last long. It didn’t come with instructions so I was giving it tap water and trying to feed it bits of raw ground beef. Both are big mistakes when it comes to these types of plants.

About fifteen years ago my interest in them was renewed when I attended a lecture at a local plant nursery. I then picked up a couple of books on the topic and discovered that there are carnivorous plants growing in my area. Of course, carnivorous plants are protected, so digging them up in the wild is a big no-no and can result in fines and jail time. Luckily, there are licensed nurseries all over the U.S. that cultivate and sell them.

I’ve picked up most of my plants from California Carnivores. They offer an amazing variety that caters to both amateurs and professionals. I’ve also picked up a couple of plants locally. There’s a guy here who cultivates them in his backyard bog garden, then sells them through a locally-owned nursery.

Right now my pitcher plants are doing well. I have them planted in five gallon pots in a mixture of sphagnum moss, perlite, and pine bark. Odd, right? The thing about carnivorous plants is that they don’t get much, if any, nutrition from the ground they grow in. Regular potting soil will kill them. Even tap water can be deadly, so I have a free-standing rain barrel that I use to water them. Despite their meat-eating habits, they’re actually quite delicate. To try to and keep them as comfortable as possible, I mostly leave them alone and let them do their thing, only pruning in the winter and leaving some of the dying pitchers until they completely dry out.

I don’t want to bore you with all the cool biology and tongue-twisting scientific names, but I think you might enjoy seeing a few of my pets.

This is a white pitcher plant that’s indigenous to my area here in North Florida. They grow wild in the national forest just south of town. The pitchers, at least in the pots on my patio, grow to a height of three to four foot. The lip of the pitcher excretes a sweet substance that attracts bugs. Then they slip and fall into the pitcher where they drown, and are digested, by enzymes in the water that gets trapped in there. The plants also have fine hairs pointing downwards that line the interior of the pitchers. In this photo, one pitcher is open for business while the other one is just about ready to open. If you click and zoom in, you can seem some of those fine hairs on the lid of the open one.

White Pitcher Plants

And here are some of my red, hooded pitchers. They tend to stay low to the ground. The interesting thing about this type of pitcher is the hood. When bugs fall in they obviously try to get back out. The white spots on the hood allow light in, which tricks the bugs into thinking that’s the way out. What they do is bounce off the inside of the hood over and over until they’re exhausted, then down into the enzyme soup they go!

This photo is of some regular hooded pitchers. The same thing applies here with the white ‘bubbles’ on the hood helping to render the victims immobile. If you look close, you can also see an Australian sundew that’s moved into the neighborhood.

Fun fact: When I bought the Australian sundew I was told it was sterile and wouldn’t propagate. Over the course of three or four years it would flower like crazy and seed up, but that’s it. Then, earlier this year, I found that some seeds fell into this pitcher pot and sprouted. I must be doing something right.

Green Pitchers and Australian Sundew

I’ll share more of my deadly little garden in the future. I also have Venus fly-traps, sundews, and a variety of other pitchers.

Hope you enjoyed this foray into my weird world.

Me and my pitchers

RB

October 1

October is Here!

October is one of my favorite months. Not only is the weather cooling down a bit (not too much), but it also contains my favorite holiday.

I’ve been a fan of Halloween since I was a kid. My best friend at the time, Jay, lived across the street from me and we’d go to great lengths to dress up for the big night. One year I wrapped myself from head to toe in Ace bandages in order to play a scary mummy. Unfortunately, most of the treat givers thought I was an accident victim. Oh well.

Another year Jay dressed as Dracula (I think his mom made the cape, complete with starched collar) and I went as faithful Renfield. We made quite a pair. And keep in mind that we didn’t use store-bought costumes. No, we created our own and spent a good amount of time planning what we’d do each year.

Not long before I moved out of the neighborhood, I got together with a kid that lived on the next street over and we built a “haunted house” in his garage. We hung sheets to make the hallway, then set up folding tables to hold things like a bowl of eyeballs (peeled grapes), fresh brains (pink jello), and then put on masks so we could jump out and scare the other kids. It was a blast.

Maybe that’s where I got my initial love of horror and weirdness. Creating my own costumes, learning how to make fake blood and scars, reading Famous Monsters Magazine (RIP) to get ideas for the future…it all ended up being the breeding ground for my current imagination.

But Halloween is still a few weeks away and I have to be patient. I don’t dress up like I used to and, obviously, this year isn’t going to be quite the same, but I still love the day, the magic, and the monsters. Plus, this year the full moon will make an appearance. That’s awesome.

Oh, and if you’re ready to start getting in the mood, check out my short story collection, Dark Journeys. It’s a mix of dark sci-fi, horror, and speculative fiction. Perfect for reading under the covers with a flashlight. You still do that, right?

Dark Journeys Cover

September 23

Baking Frustration

If you haven’t noticed, I enjoy cooking. I write about cooking here on my blog and I post cooking videos on my YouTube channel. To me, cooking is just another way to be creative. My favorite recipes are the ones that allow me to experiment with seasoning and switching out ingredients. It allows me to make it my own way. Usually, that’s a good thing. Usually.

Baking, on the other hand, is my Achilles Heel. The thorn in my side. My kitchen nemesis. Yes, it’s still cooking, mixing ingredients together, using heat or cold to meld them all together into something interesting. And believe me, I try to bake. Working from a box of mix is a no-brainer. Anyone can make brownies from a mix.

My trouble begins when I try to bake from scratch. For some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can never seem to get the recipes to come out right. There’s always something off about them. Too gummy, underdone, or maybe too dry, a little overdone on one end. Drives me up the wall.

However, this past week I tried to bake bread using the instructions in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Basically, I make a large batch of bread dough to keep in the fridge and pull a handful out every couple of days to bake a small loaf. It’s simple and specific, and while I don’t deviate from the recipe, it’s been fun.

But the loafs…well, I may not be as precise as I need to be when mixing the dough. I’m switching between measuring by volume and measuring by weight. Using weight is supposed to be better, but for me using volume has worked better. I have no idea why.

So I made enough dough for three loafs. The first one turned out okay, but I needed to let it brown more. The second loaf browned nicely on top, but I forgot to pull the parchment paper out from underneath it midway through, so the bottom didn’t cook as well as it should.

But the third loaf…ah, that was were things came together. In fact, I was so pleased with it I took a few pics to share. Unfortunately, my partner got ahold of it before I could grab my phone, so a piece is missing. Not to worry, it was still warm and covered in fig jelly. And no, she didn’t share.

Loaf of bread loaf of bread

The only thing I forgot (because I ALWAYS forget something when baking) is to score the top. Other than that, it turned out almost perfect. Nice thin, crispy crust and a decent crumb.

Once I get this recipe under control, I’m going to try my hand at baguettes. And pretzels. And seeded bread…

I may have an addiction.

RB