Top 5 posts in 2015 according to my own disorganized standards

What follows is a rundown of 5 posts in 2015 that I’ve written on this blog and others that I’m relatively happy with.

  1. Most recently, I wrote this post for iArtisan’s blog about a punk rock/roots music website for which I helped write copy. It’s tied together with thoughts on the Mike Watt/X show I saw in NW Portland a couple of weeks ago. Craig is a dude I work with a lot who is a total boss at WordPress. Hire him.
  2. My review for the movie Starry Eyes might be the movie + beer pairing/review that I’m the most proud of this year. It’s a great horror film with a clear archetype and an approach that rings especially true for me as a member of Gen Y. What makes me particularly proud of it, though, is that it resulted in the director Tweeting this at me:Twitter acclaim
  3. Here is an interview I conducted with an alumnus from my graduate program about the “Write to Publish” event, which I have been working to promote through my involvement with Ooligan Press (what most consider the core of the publishing program). And for which I’ll also be moderating a panel in exactly one month. Eep. More on this one later.
  4. On a Jack the Ripper site that I write most of the content for, I gave my two cents on the “undeniable DNA evidence” dude who claims to have Catherine Eddowes’ shawl. After reading his whole book, of course. And if you didn’t know I wrote for a Jack the Ripper site…well…yeah.. More than a little bit.
  5. A tribute to Wes Craven rounds out this list, he being one of the most formative directors of my young life and the genre that I love so much.

Rebranding this blog at the same time I began school for the first time in five years wasn’t really great for posting volume. I became paralyzed every time I tried to think about what sort of a blog this “should” be, and naturally ended up doing nothing at all. Trying to keep on top of two jobs, freelancing, and all the demanding work of a grad student is like trying to run up a sand dune. It can be done, but not nearly as prettily as you might like. For at least the next year and a half, I will not promise regular updates, even though I’d like to, and will keep trying to.

Changes are coming, as they do at the turn of the calendar and at every other time of year, but more on that tomorrow.

As Above, So Below + Fort George Cavatica Stout

Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in.

I’ve been choosier with my horror films since starting school and upping my book intake even further. Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised by a film about which I’d read some non-plussed reactions. This film happened to pair perfectly with a beverage already chilling in our fridge, and it seemed criminal not to bring this pairing to life.

fort george cavitica stout

The Beer: Fort George Cavatica Stout

ABV: 8.8% | IBU: Not sure…but it is a stout

Meet my new favorite go-to brewery. Fort George Brewing Company is a class act from Astoria, OR, that knows how to truly rock the can game.

Cavatica Stout is a lush stout rather than a dry stout. But it’s still got that comfortable, familiar stout malt profile (Munich malt is one of my absolute favorites). It’s inky black like a shadow that might actually not be a shadow at all, but something living and Lovecraftian.

And even more apropos? “Cavatica” is a Latin word referring to a dark, dank place. A crevice.

Or perhaps a catacomb.

as above, so below

The Film: As Above, So Below; 2014

If you don’t already know this, there are miles upon miles upon miles of catacombs under the city of Paris. If you can take a tour, DO IT. My tour of a sliver of that labyrinth was one of the most unsettling experiences of my life. There are literal layers of bones from the bodies of epidemic victims that the city government stashed down there.

And every year, smart-asses who just want to party get lost down there, never to return to the surface.

And as if that real-life horror weren’t enough, this movie takes it SEVERAL steps further.

Enjoying or not enjoying a horror movie is heavily dependent on the attitude you take into it. And I quickly realized that this movie would benefit from an “action / adventure movie” approach in addition to an expectation of found-footage horror.

In the form of any “quest” film or book, a hero character is presented and quickly connected with some unattainable objective. Our hero — or heroine — is Scarlet, a young British woman in her early to mid twenties who is smoking hot, multilingual in several living and dead languages, and possessing multiple advanced degrees.

So, pretty damn unlikely. Which is fine.

We find out that she has taken up her mad-professor father’s obsession with finding the Philosopher’s Stone, a stone with miraculous healing properties.

Her archeological, Indiana Jonesesque adventures have pointed her, as we expect, to the Paris catacombs.

Scarlet tracks down her scholarly, but also hot, ex-boyfriend George (for sexual tension of course) and enlists his help with translating ancient texts. The two then find a Parisian club-kid with the street name of Papillon (SO HARDCORE) to guide them into a part of the catacombs where no one has ever come out…ALIVE!!!

Or…dead or whatever.

Things go predictably for awhile. The trio, along with Papillon’s girlfriend Souxie and the cameraman, Benji, start to become lost and disoriented after crawling through a passageway that they’re warned out of. People hyperventilate from claustrophobia. They all find themselves back where they started no matter what they do. Etc. Etc.

Until they start tunneling further into the depths of the earth.

And then it turns into ultra-funtime for every medieval-lore, Dante-loving casual lit nerd that picked up the DVD.

Yeah. This movie was pretty much made for me.

Finding the philosopher’s stone is the goal, but it is not the climax of the movie. It’s just the turning point. As they find time and time again that the only safe path is through a series of manholes beneath their feet, they find a stone wall with crude letters carved into the wall:

Abandon hope, ye who enter here.

And I’m not embarrassed to admit that at that moment, I let out a loud, celebratory, “YEAAAH!”

I can see why some people panned this film. It’s got pretty unrealistic characters. It gets melodramatic. There’s lots of senseless screaming and running around in the dark. Things work out a little better than they probably should.

On the other hand, one of my major issues with found footage is often it’s just watching unformed, wooden characters sit around, get warned about things by forgettable creeps, and not have anything scary happen to them until they all get wiped out in the last five minutes.

Taking the “action / adventure film” approach worked for me. It meant that any cheesiness just translated into part of a fun ride.

And when you’re on a ride you’re allowed to jump and scream when the cheesy scares pop out at you.

Why publishing? Why now?

A few years ago, I watched an interview with Quentin Tarantino where he made this comment about how, when he was a kid, he loved the movies so much that he wanted to become a movie star. He said he wanted this because kids can only really see the actors onscreen at first. Then he learned about all the things that go on behind the camera, and he realized that’s where he wanted to be.

My pursuing publishing wasn’t too much different a jump. As a child, I saw that writers and illustrators were putting stories to paper, but never dreamed how many people had to come together to make these words and pictures into a coherent piece. So I decided that becoming a writer would be my ultimate fate.

After intensive summer writing camps and college classes, I realized that the fiction writing process was a painstaking, self-centered, solo journey. While I still loved storytelling and didn’t have a problem expressing myself when I needed to, I realized that my taking this journey usually left me feeling drained. I’d stare at my work, wondering if I’d done anything more than ruminate on those ugly corners of myself that writing dredged up (and workshop compatriots often wondered the same thing about me).

To make money, I took up tutoring and teaching, followed by copywriting and marketing. I wrote for alumni publications, did a stint at a newspaper, and took up blogging. The satisfaction of crafting someone’s broken sentence into something meaningful, through proofreading or cajoling, made me feel like there are some things in this world that can be repaired (or at least improved). All the while, I was trying over and over to write fiction, and over and over again wondering why I wasn’t deriving satisfaction from it.

The epiphany came when I realized there’s more to loving words than being a literary fiction writer, and that I wasn’t giving up. I was finding a more unique, more appropriate path for myself.

While I wasn’t so impressed with my own fictional stories, telling other people’s stories – or helping to promote or improve them – was definitely something I could see myself doing forever. And when I found Ooligan Press’ program online, I realized it was the perfect interdisciplinary combination of editing, design, marketing and – yes, still! – writing that I was looking for.

Naturally, letting people know what I’m doing has drawn some skeptical looks and flippant remarks about “dead” industries. Though time and time again I’ve had to bite back scorn, I’m usually able to convince naysayers that publishing is in one of its most intriguing phases. Omnivorous content consumption (paper AND electronic) creates myriad opportunities for fascinating work creating print books, e-books, and versatile ad campaigns for both.

People are taking in so many images, stories, jokes, think-pieces, paperbacks, classics, video, articles, short stories, poems, etc., that the barrier to entry for a writer has lowered. That can, of course, create a glut of crap-content, and that crap can bury quality work created by writers and researchers that are willing to take that dark, solo journey into focused creativity.

But even crap-content can serve a greater purpose. It can give people who are already reading crave more substantial stories and meaningful words and images that they can hold onto. And I want to be one of the people putting well-crafted, powerful works into the hands of these readers.

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What I Learned from Wes Craven

Many people writing about Wes Craven this week refer to A Nightmare on Elm Street as the film of his that rocked their childhood. While I knew about, and feared, Freddy Kruger, Scream was the first Craven movie that really made an impression on (i.e., scared the crap out of) me.

Wes Craven and Drew Barrymore

With all the people who would go on to blame the Scream movies for their own killing sprees, and all the moral posturing that targeted Craven’s films in particular, he never apologized or allowed his work to be co-opted by anyone with bad intentions. Even Taxi Driver is known as the movie that inspired the attempted Reagan assassination and The Dark Knight is now heavily overshadowed by the Aurora shooting. Regular Joe and Joanne horror fans are so possessive of Craven’s films, however, that we’ll never let the punk-bitches who putz around with butcher knives and play murder take them away from us.

Because, in the end, these movies are all about the survivor. Us. Not them. And in his movies, the villains are ALWAYS d-bags.

“Now see! Don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.”

Even though they shock us with creative, unrelenting violence, Craven’s movies took the “final girl” to a whole new level of self-aware empowerment. And as a young woman, remembering the determination that Nancy and Sidney showed in their efforts to triumph over their attackers would help me fight off whatever demons happened to be after me in my own dreams.

Wes Craven, Courtney Cox, Neve Campbell, Meryl Streep
The man himself, surrounded by ladies who dig him.

Ultimately, as an adult, it would be Wes Craven himself who really inspired me.

“I literally remember a conversation along the lines of, ‘Sean [Cunningham, producer of Last House on the Left], I don’t know anything about making a scary movie.’ And Sean said, ‘Well, you were raised as a fundamentalist, just pull all the skeletons out of your closet.'”

The result of the above conversation is one of the most brutal, hard-to-watch films of all time (Last House on the Left, 1972), but it also marked a personal change that few people are ever able to pull off successfully. Wes Craven was raised in a restrictive, Baptist household in Ohio, and that upbringing took a serious psychological toll on him (as it does on many). He went on to make his own way in life, growing in his appreciation for literature and narrative quality, and ultimately turning his childhood trauma into cathartic, thrilling stories that have affected people who may never have taken a second look at a horror movie.

And maybe that’s because he was able to find a way to help people from all different backgrounds identify their own, inner survivor.

Though his first few films were sadistic in that way that only films from the 70s can be, he continuously pressed forward to develop a unique sense of style and humor that made his films special and relatable. Due to the ravages of brain cancer, he wasn’t able to die on set at age 90 the way he wanted to, but he left behind a body of work that is both entertaining and inspiring to future artists and storytellers.

The Extrovert’s Guide to Working from Home

Depression and anxiety can trick you into thinking that your dark side, or your disease, is your true personality. You begin to imagine that other humans are the enemy and that you’re better off hiding in your home and scraping out money with as much face-to-face contact as possible. Getting treated, whether that means with talk-therapy, art-therapy, cardio, or medication, can help reveal who really lives beneath that layer of self loathing.

For me, I recovered my energetic attitude toward others after I’d already started working from home. In the midst of transition, (ie., waiting for grad school to start), I’ve developed mechanisms to keep myself happy, energized, and sane.

Go Outside in the Morning

Can we go now? Can we go now?

I’m fortunate that I have an enormous hound that needs to be taken out or he cries and cries like scalded milk in an espresso machine. First thing in the morning, even if it’s bad weather, let some vitamin D slip into your pores. Most neighborhoods at least have some sort of green landmark or destination to use as a turnaround point (unless you’re in California, then it’s probably yellow). With any luck, you’ll encounter some friendly faces out in the world, exchange some pleasantries, and hell, even meet the neighbors. If you do this, it also usually requires you to put on some clothes. Well, at least a bra and some shoes in addition to your yoga pants or whatever. Sometimes I even put on jeans. And this makes the inertia a lot less potent when opportunities to leave the house arise later in the day.

Queue up Your Favorite Podcasts

Nothing gets you pumped up in the morning like your favorite song. Starting out your day getting dressed and listening to a favorite jam or the familiar voices of podcasts you especially like. Personally, I like to wake myself with the Last Podcast on the Left or Sword and Scale. Those are more for the horror-inclined, however, and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Something with a little bit of humor, excitement, or inspiration is best, and if you follow a regular show, you develop a little bit of familiarity with the people on the other end of the microphone.

Remember you Have Clients and Colleagues

Call them. Make appointments to meet with them. Cold calling is terrifying, and I don’t really do it. I prefer an idea proposed (by a client no less!) of pursuing “warm leads”. These are people approached via this marvelous thing called THE INTERNET via LinkedIn, MeetUp, and Facebook Pages. That way, calls are not cold and terrifying, but rather just talking to a face on your computer that you’ve already seen.

Create Missions for Yourself

It can become challenging to sit (or stand, like me) for hours straight focused on one task, but breaking up your workday into chunks makes for the opportunity to go out and run errands. Or, if you’re on of those Turn-Life-Into-An-RPG types, “complete missions”. While having a 9-5 may make it so you need to do all your errands at once, the homebound extrovert may choose to break up these tasks into different days of the week in order to get regular doses of human interaction. If you are not stuck working at a desktop computer, take your laptop to one of the more work-friendly coffee shops in your area, too.

home gym

Join a Gym

My solitary fitness pursuit of running was something that really worked for me back when I was working with victims of sexual abuse. It gave me a place to expend energy and to release the pressure inside my head. Once I started working from home though, the open road became just another place of alienation. Joining a powerlifting gym back in Santa Barbara county gave me at least four hours a week of joking around and shit-talking with like-minded people. Now, my gym isn’t as specialized and includes a lot more cardio machines, but it’s small and friendly enough that I can count on at least a few friendly words, and maybe even some jokes.

If you must work from home, implement these techniques, you extroverts, and everyone will be much, much happier. You will be happier because you’ve gone out into the world, combining a productive day of work with some invigorating human contact. And your roommate or significant other will be happier because you won’t be an energy-sucking mess that latches onto them like a Yerk as soon as they walk in the door.
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You May Not Be as Right as You Think

And enduring a dose of public shame could make you a better person.

When you go to sleep without any melatonin, Tylenol PM, or beer buzz, there’s a good chance you’ll be visited by the ghost of humiliations past. There’s the usual horror of childhood bodily functions gone awry, like the time someone I know peed their Halloween costume laughing at a class party in third grade (not me…definitely not me).

What really nags are those times when I’ve said or done something totally asinine and gotten nailed for it.

In tenth grade, I thought I was pretty damn smart. I mean, my parents and all my teachers told me I was. So when it came to working on a biology worksheet in a group, getting in a heated debate over one of the questions with my classmate seemed like a great idea.

“What are you talking about? Of course water contracts when it freezes! Everything contracts when it freezes!” I said, getting a little bit too intense, a little too loud, and drawing eyes from all over the room.

“No, it doesn’t,” he said.

“Of course it does!” I said.

He was laughing at me, with a look in his eyes that I now know was incredulity but then thought was stupidity. After class I ran out to find my eleventh grader friend who got really, really good grades to corroborate what I thought had to be true.

“Stephen,” I said. “Ice contracts when it freezes, right?”

“No, dude,” he said, “it definitely expands.”


“Yeah, when we were out in the midwest, the water would freeze into the cracks in the road, then the roads would get all messed up because the ice would expand and break the asphalt.”

ice on the road

The camera zooms in on horror creeping across my face.

“It’s because of the hydrogen bonds,” Stephen went on. “Why?”

During lunch I tracked down my classmate and, in front of his friends, apologized for being such a dumb ass. He laughed it off and said it was ok, probably thinking I was a huge weirdo for even bringing it up again. Maybe I was. Maybe he just hadn’t felt that soul-sucking horror of being so publicly wrong before. But from then I realized that, at least in the world of science, I might need to check my facts before being so vehement.

And it wouldn’t be too much longer before I learned that lesson didn’t just apply to science.

I don’t completely remember what spurred this, possibly some racialized violence in the school, but that same year the school decided to put on a “tolerance assembly” (back before we realized “tolerance” wasn’t that high of an ideal to aspire to). Someone decided it’d be a good idea to send all the students interested in helping out with it into the band room to talk about what the best way to put on the assembly would be.

Because why wouldn’t that go well?

At one point, a very good friend of mine suggested that there be a section of the assembly, a monologue maybe, regarding gay rights.

Squeamish about sex, bitter about finding out that a (different) boy I liked was gay, and indoctrinated into a way of thinking that I had never yet questioned, I said, “Maybe we should just stick to things that people can’t control and not sexual choices.”

The look of betrayal on his face was gutting. “You think that I chose to be gay?” His voice had gotten the strangled tone I had heard only when he was very upset.

I broke out into a cold sweat and my heart started hammering, “….isn’t it?”

“NO. It’s not.” He said.

This led to a lot more arguing, with me trying to defend the stupid thing I had just said, all the while watching how much my words had crushed someone I cared so much about. The assembly took place the following week, and I don’t remember much about it because by the end of that meeting, feeling like an enormous hypocrite, I decided not to participate.

I wish that I had begun my young adulthood more enlightened, more open, and more willing to listen before blundering into something I didn’t understand. I had to learn the hard way. After school I did some ugly-crying as I apologized to my friend, and thankfully he forgave me. To this day, he’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, and someone who has taught me more than I think even he realizes.

No matter how smart or well-intentioned you are, there’s always a chance that you are completely and utterly wrong.

Maybe social media has made us more defensive and inured us to feeling the kind of shame we need to change and grow. Too often, I think, we conflate well-deserved calling-out with bullying or undeserved criticism. The fact remains that these negative experiences that haunt us as we try to lull ourselves to sleep are so ingrained for a reason. They are some of the most important moments of our lives, and teach us the importance of pausing to listen.