Random Acts of Silence

One day, when my stepson was ten years old, he arrived home from school in tears. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me that some older kids at school had cornered him, mocked him, beat him up, and called him a “fag”. One of them spit into his mouth. Why? Because he wore glasses. In telling me this story, my stepson seemed angry, not so much at the boys who had tormented him, but at himself. He referred to himself as “stupid” and “ugly”. And this is what bullying does: it shatters the confidence of children before they have even had a chance to fully develop it. Being so malleable and emotionally fragile at that age, they believe what they are told by their peers if they hear it often enough. Childhood is a minefield fraught with insecurity and uncertainty. We don’t yet know who we are destined to become, or even how best to get there. Torment we might laugh off in ten years’ time sticks with us, infects us like a cancer, and changes us. And in the most tragic of cases, it can lead to the terrible, panicked decision to take our own lives because it seems like the only escape from the hurt.

bully_project_ver2_xxlgWhen I offered to have a word with my stepson’s teacher, he begged me not to, for fear that it would only make things worse, that he’d be labeled a “snitch” or a “rat” and have to endure the consequent reprisal from his tormentors. So I said nothing, until it happened again, after which I called his teacher and informed her of the situation, but implored her not to let on that I had said anything at all. So she kept an eye on things, caught the bullies in the act and sent them to the principal’s office, where they were dealt punishment deemed appropriate for the situation.

They made them all apologize and shake hands with my stepson.

This is what we’re doing to curb bullying. Forcing them to act like civilized human beings when clearly this is not in their nature. And when a student does the unimaginable and takes his or her life, we’re shocked and for a few weeks or months we’re all about the changes that need to be made. And nothing happens. But it’s not fair to blame the teachers. They have enough to deal with, are underpaid, underappreciated, and in most cases, not trained to deal with such issues. So who do we blame then? The parents? Perhaps, but that’s too easy. A lot of these bullies are perfect angels at home which makes it inconceivable when the bullying is brought to light. Some of the time these children become bullies as a reaction to how they are treated at home. Perhaps there’s physical or mental abuse. How do you not blame the parents in such circumstances? Well, you have to ask yourself how the parents were raised. What did they endure that made them the way they are? And so it goes, around and around and around with fingers being pointed left, right, and center, and while we argue and debate and the media exploits the tragedy for its own ratings, some poor innocent child occupies an early grave.

But suicide is not the only way for children to deal with being bullied.

Some, natural survivors, endure, or fight back, or ignore it entirely, and dedicate themselves to just coming out the other end of the gauntlet with minimal scarring. These are the fortunate ones.

Others decide to take revenge.

An ex-girlfriend of mine once told me about the bullying she and her best friend endured all throughout high school. Labeled “dykes” because of their close friendship, they were, on a daily basis, for years, thrown into lockers, spat at, pelted with ice cubes, and other sundry abuses. On the few occasions in which the teachers intervened, it was to berate them for the same reason the other students did: they were so close and similarly dressed, they were obviously homosexual. It escalated to the point where the two girls, jokingly, began to fantasize about putting rat poison into the food in the cafeteria and killing all the students. Another option they considered was blowing up the school. The fantasy was something they talked about regularly and it served as a form of catharsis. It helped. They never seriously thought about acting on it.

This was twenty years ago. How many school shootings have we seen since then in which it was later revealed that the students were outcasts, or had been bullied? Two decades ago, for my ex-girlfriend and her best friend, there wasn’t a precedent for school massacres, so the mere idea of it was obviously so far-fetched it could never come to fruition. Nor had they been pushed quite to the point where their frustration had made them homicidal. There is a serious precedent for such things now.

The best, if imperfect, solution is counseling and education. Classes for teachers, parents, and students, on how best to cope with bullying can help prepare us for such things. But again, that requires staffing, training, funding, and in the government’s eyes, in this time of economic strife and war, having our children, our hope of a better future, protected in our schools, is a low priority on a very long list.

But for all the bad, there will always be good. There are organizations that do not just exist as billboards, that strive and work tirelessly for change and heightened awareness of this escalating problem. I would direct you to the documentary Bully, which is heartbreaking and important, and the associated organization The Bully Project, to which I donate and continue to support. According to the statistics posted on their site, “over thirteen million American kids will be bullied this year”. That’s a horrifying number, but you know what? There are more of us, and if you can help, you should.

Talk to your sons and daughters about bullying. Be aware of their behavior. The slightest change could indicate a problem. And most importantly: listen.

Our children are our saviors.

Let’s be theirs.

LINKS

If you are a victim of bullying, talk to someone. Being a victim does not make you weak; it makes the bully weak. There is no shame in seeking help. Sooner or later, we all need it, and there is always someone willing to listen. Remember…there are more of us than them.

http://www.stopbullying.gov

http://www.pacer.org/bullying/

http://www.championsagainstbullying.com/

Announcing DIGITAL 50

Q. What is Digital 50?

Digital 50 is a subscription based sales model which allows you, the reader access to every digital book I publish for the next ten years, or fifty books, whichever happens first.

Q. What makes this different from just buying them outright?

You can of course buy them as they’re released but Digital 50 allows you access to those books weeks, sometimes months in advance of the official publication date. And with the upfront fee, you’re getting a massive discount. My books are generally priced between $2.99 and $4.99. Spread that over multiple titles for ten years and you’re getting the books for practically nothing, delivered to you by the author in whichever digital format you prefer.

Q. Are there any other incentives?

Oh yes. Every subscriber will also receive an original short story which will be written just for them, and which will be signed by the author. You will also get access to story notes and “behind the scenes” material for some books which will not be in the official releases.

Q. How much does it cost?

As the name suggests, it costs $50.00. This not only covers the book subscription, but also compensates for the time it will take me to write original short stories for the subscribers. And considering I rarely write new stories for less than professional rates (5 – 10 cents a word), that too is a bargain!

Q. How do you pay?

Payment is via Paypal to elderlemon2010 (at) aol dot com

Q. When does my subscription begin?

Upon the release of my next book, which is scheduled for this summer. Subscribers will of course be the first to receive it.

Q. What if I want to cancel?

You can cancel at any time by sending an email to the above address.

Q. Will I get a refund?

You will be refunded your subscription fee minus the retail cost of any books you’ve already received. However, if you’ve already received your signed short story manuscript, no refund will be possible, as that will be considered payment for the story.

Q. When should I expect my short story?

Short stories take time, and depending on the amount of subscribers, it could take anywhere from one month to six. However you can check on the status of your story at any time by dropping me an email at the above address.

Q. What’s the next step?

Simply Paypal your subscription fee to me at elderlemon2010 (at) aol dot com, and then drop me an email to the same address with your name, the format in which you’d like your digital books delivered, and a mailing address to which I can send your short story manuscript. You will receive a confirmation from me shortly thereafter.

Alternatively, you can include the above information directly through your Paypal purchase.

Q. I have other questions not addressed here. Can I email you for clarification?

Absolutely. Just use the above email and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Q. I don’t read digital. Will you be offering a “Print 50″ anytime soon?

That may indeed be a future endeavor, but as the print releases tend to be a lot slower and the cost a lot higher, it will take some time to figure out.

25 Short Horror Movies

While the majority of these are predictable and rather uninspired, relying too heavily on jump scares, gotcha moments, and J-horror-style entities, a couple of them are pretty good (though naturally my ego demands I omit the adaptation of my own “Peekers” from any of these accusations  Grin.)

If you want to skip through the dodgy ones, my recommendations are:

“He Took His Skin Off for Me”, “The Little Witch”, “Alma” (which is like Pixar on crack), “The Black Hole”, “The Whistler”, “Endless”, “Red Balloon”, and “Doppelganger”.

http://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/short-horror-films/

Enjoy!

Upcoming Work: 2015

Thought I’d post an update for those curious about what’s coming down the pike from me this year. Obviously this is assuming there are no delays, life-altering disasters, or collapsing publishers, but as of now this is how things stand…

NOVELS
Night Falls on Memory Lane
Kin 2

NOVELLAS
The Landlords

SHORT STORIES
“The End of Us” — Better Weird: A Tribute to David B. Silva, Cemetery Dance Publicationsbetter weird
“I’m Not There” — Library of the Dead
“Stalled” — Shocklines: New Voices in Terror
“The Land of Sunshine” – Dark Screams Volume Five
“What Did You Do To Them, Mr. Donovan?” – Unannounced Anthology
“Untitled Round Robin Story with Ray Garton, Brian Freeman, Bev Vincent, and Richard Chizmar” – Cemetery Dance Publications
“Hoarder” – Blurring the Line
“Home” – Unannounced Anthology
“Down Here With Us” – The Lost Citadel
“Verdigris” – I Am the Abyss

COLLECTIONS
Milestone: The Collected Stories (print edition)

ESSAYS
“Dancing with Mr. Death” – October Dreams 2chizmar18

FILM
“How the Night Receives Them” (short) – Details TBA
“Let Me Go” (original short) – Details TBA
“Peekers” – Feature Film, Lionsgate Entertainment, Release Date TBA

OTHER
“The Playwright” – Broadside Limited Release from Biting Dog Press

As always, I’ll update as more news becomes available…

Better Weird

I am pleased to announce that I have a brand new short story (“The End of Us”) and an essay in the forthcoming anthology BETTER WEIRD, a tribute to my dear departed colleague David B. Silva. The book will be released digitally in April, with a print edition to follow over the summer.And if you’re not familiar with Silva’s writing, I urge you to rectify that immediately.

Here is the full rundown on the book from co-editor Paul Olson:

better weirdComing in April as an e-book from Cemetery Dance Publications!

Better weird than plastic …

For a generation of horror fans, those four words signaled a momentous occasion: the arrival of a new issue of David B. Silva’s seminal publication, THE HORROR SHOW. For nine years in the 1980s, Dave and his magazine published some of the biggest names in the genre and introduced the world to countless others, nurturing dozens of careers along the road from first publication to major success. A man of limitless talent, Dave also earned a reputation as one of the field’s finest writers, producing a handful of brilliant novels and a vast collection of award-winning stories.

Following Dave’s untimely death in 2013, authors from around the world of horror came forward to honor his memory. Those who grew up reading his immortal magazine, those who learned from his kind and careful tutelage, those who admired the editor, the writer, the man – they are all here, gathered in the pages of this special anthology. Kealan Patrick Burke, Brian Hodge, Joe R. Lansdale, Robert R. McCammon, Bentley Little, Elizabeth Massie, Brian Keene, J.F. Gonzalez, Steve Rasnic Tem, Billie Sue Mosiman, Kathryn Ptacek, Thomas F. Monteleone, Gary Raisor, Yvonne Navarro, Robert Swartwood, G. Wayne Miller, and Paul F. Olson. With brand new tales of terror, lovingly-chosen classics, and heartfelt tributes, these writers have come to raise a chill, bring a tear, and remind you of the truth in Dave’s immortal words: It’s always BETTER WEIRD …

Horror Books I’ve Read Twice

Bibliophile and horror aficionado Greg Fisher has posted an article about the horror novels/books he has read more than once, and I’m very honored to see some of my titles listed there. It also got me thinking about the regularity with which people revisit their favorite books. For me, it’s extremely rare that I’ll reread a book, no matter how fondly I remember it. There are just too many new books to read. That being said, I have reread Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, Dan Simmons’ SUMMER OF NIGHT and Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY. But I think that’s about it. How about you, are you a rereader?

You can see Greg’s full list of revisited reads here.

WALKING THE DOG (or How To Conquer Writer’s Block)

Pencils

© Mats Tooming | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Argue the legitimacy of writer’s block all you like—and people do—the fact remains that there are few things worse for a writer than sitting down at the keyboard with a headful of ideas only to find that the words won’t come. We’ve all been there at one time or another. Perhaps there’s a deadline looming so close you’ve lost the luxury of the time needed to organize your thoughts. Maybe the pressure is so great it’s hampering your muse. Or maybe you just have too many other things on your mind for the words to find a straight path to your fingers: bills, repairs, what’s on TV right now…

Whatever the case, it’s stressful, and it’s happened to me more times than I can count.

But, rather by accident, I found a way around it.

My problem was one of intimidation. There were days when I would sit at the computer knowing what I wanted to write but unable, or unwilling, to write it. It seemed like a task that was greater than my capacity to deal with it. How do I sit here and essentially create a world from nothing when I feel as if I’m missing half the tools? Gods of literature do not approve of ill-fashioned worlds. My situations seemed convoluted, my action stilted, my characters forced…

In the end, I looked out the window and saw a man walking his dog, and that became the solution. Did I start my story: “A man walked his dog”? No. Did I create the world in which this man and his dog belonged? Not at first. I reduced it almost entirely to dialogue and imagined the conversation this man might have with his dog, but not just an ABC run-of-the-mill conversation. After all, if you’re going to have the dog as one of your key players in this little tableau, you might as well make it interesting:

“Every day,” Patch said.

The old man raised his eyebrows. “What’s that?”

“Every day the same old walk.”

“You don’t approve?”

“I don’t not approve, exactly. But it wouldn’t kill you to change direction once in a while.”

“I suppose we could do that.”

“How about swinging down by the school? The children love me.”

“Yes, they love you. The older ones can be cruel.”

“You let me worry about that.”

“If I let you worry about that, we’re both in trouble.”

“How about the beach, then?”

“The sand is filthy.”

“That’s part of why I like it.”

“Plus, there’s that homeless guy.”

“I like him too.”

“I don’t.”

“Why not? He’s never interfered with you.”

“Maybe, but there’s something I don’t like about him.”

“Maybe it’s the fact that he stole your fashion sense.”

“Very funny.”

“And yet you didn’t even crack a smile.”

More often than not, I have no idea where this dialogue is leading me, but it spins out into a story of some sort by the time I get to the end. It creates itself based on the exchange. The characters let me know their thoughts, their characteristics, their dilemmas, and the conflict at the core of their tale. They work it out for themselves and for me, on the page. And even if I run out of steam and never complete the piece, I have overcome the block that kept me from writing anything at all. And that’s what I always do when the words are not coming with their usual aplomb. I start with dialogue.

Try it yourself. Have a look around you. Snippets of conversations caught in a crowd at the mall, or in the park, are usually enough to engage my imagination. A woman is on the phone and says: “Yes, but if it had been the blue one, nobody would have been angry.” Imagination kicks in. A blue what? Who was angry and why? It’s creative eavesdropping designed to engage the muse.

Even if you’re at home and looking out the window, you don’t even need the auditory cues to get your creativity in gear. That woman sitting in her car singing along to some song you can’t hear. Is she always this carefree and happy? Does that joy flee her heart by the time she gets home when she realizes that yet again she has to face….what? Or was she listening to a tape of her old band playing their biggest tune? Mixed in with that joy is nostalgia and regret that she left the band back when they were on the verge of superstardom. Perhaps she’s wondering where she’d be now if things had worked out differently. Perhaps she’ll get another chance…

And that’s where you come in. You’re a writer. You can time travel, teleport, read minds…it’s what we do. So when the words aren’t coming, rather than sitting there in frustration glaring at a white screen, find the words. Sometimes it’s like Where’s Waldo? but they’re there, hidden in the mundane, the ordinary, waiting like a lit match to touch the fuse of your creativity.

You just need to remember how and where to look.

And sometimes it’s nothing more complicated than a man walking his dog.

“I used to want to be a writer, you know.”

Patch looked up at his master. “I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you pursue it?”

“I didn’t know where to start.”

“At the beginning?”

“It’s not always that easy to find it.”

“Isn’t that where we are right now?”

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(This article originally appeared in Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, edited by Laurie Lamson, Tarcher/Penguin Books, 2014.)