Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Suckered Again

I recently became excited because I discovered Firefly, the series Fox killed in its cradle, would see a revival on Netflix. As my excitement reached a frenzy, a friend drenched me with reality, pointing out the information was a hoax. Who does stuff like that?

I decided to go exploring, just to see what other hoaxes might be out there waiting to pounce. My research delivered immediate results. The Washington Post listed its worst 15 internet hoaxes. Here are their top five, if you want to read the rest, click the link.

1. There was no three boobed girl.  That's numero uno? I didn't even realize it was a thing.
2. 4chan didn’t leak Emma Watson’s nudes. What? Then the mystery is still unsolved,
3. That super-viral “drunk girl” video was staged. I have some ex-students...
4. Bikers didn't "surrender" the Brooklyn Bridge to pedestrians. Didn't know it was taken.
5. A disfigured 3-year-old was not kicked out of a Mississippi KFC. 

Wow, Those are like the lamest hoaxes. Couldn't the prestigious journalistic team at the Washington Post have come up with something a bit more interesting? Even Mashable came up with something a bit more interesting. Remember "Bill Gates Wants to Give You Money?" What about "The Giant Camel Spiders of Iraq?" or "Hercules, the Giant Dog?" And then there was the ever popular "How to Charge an Ipod with an Onion?" All they needed was a great infomercial.

Keep in mind that I'm not talking about the sort of hoaxes your crazy uncle is going to scream about this coming Thanksgiving, you know..the political ones. I'm talking about stuff like Hercules. Who creates that sort of hoax. And why? And who believes them? Besides me? When we're talking about Firefly coming to Netflix. Hey, at least I was suckered in by something important.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Post Halloween Depressive Disorder

After Halloween passes, there's always a bit of a let down for lovers of horror and genre. We put away our orange and black streamers and throw out the pumpkins. Decorations are carefully boxed, and some of us head off for the Halloween Store the day after so we can enjoy the 50% off sale for items for next year.

So what's the best way to cope heading into mid-November, feeling the press of Thanksgiving and Christmas? After all that anticipation, how do we deal with the After-Halloween-Blues?

Here are five suggestions, although I'm not sure any of them will really do the job, but let me know if you have others.

1) Embrace the coming holidays. Whether it's Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Festivus, or New Years Eve, just enjoy it. Maybe try leaving out your Halloween stuff, but add a bit of glitter. Got a zombie on the front porch? Give him a sparkly wreath or a Santa Hat. Got a hand of glory? Eight fingers make a great menorah.

2) Form a Post-Halloween Support Group for PHDD (Post Halloween Depressive Disorder). Why not a twelve step group for after Halloween? "My name is Stewart, and I'm a Post Halloween Depressive." Hi, Stewart! "It's twelve days after Halloween, and I keep turning on the porch light and looking for kids. The police have started driving by real slow."

3) Denial. Okay. Forget everyone else and the endless holiday commercials on TV. As far as you're concerned, it's still October 31st, and it's going to stay that way until next September, when you're legally able to anticipate Halloween. The only break you may be the Superbowl. But that's it. (and maybe Valentines Day...and St. Patrick's Day...maybe April Fools Day, and Aunt Margie's birthday...but that's it!!!)

4) Overdose..purge it from the system. I know you don't think it possible, but consider it aversion therapy for Halloween fanaticism. Force yourself to eat nothing but Mary Janes for two weeks whHocus Pocus on a continual loop. Or wear your favorite costume for the entire month of November, complete with mask. Don't worry about work disapproving, you have civil rights! Just cite the Religious Freedom Protection Act!
ile watching

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Relaunch Tomorrow

There's nothing I like talking about more than genre, especially dark fiction and dark cinema. I can sit down and discuss it for hours, going on and on about personalities, tropes, motifs, and trends in genre. Maybe it's because I write horror and dark fantasy (The Emerald Key, The Ravening). Maybe it's because I have no life.

Given that this is who I am, I'm rededicating myself to this blog, and focusing on genre, promising the kind of discussion that fans, especially those living in their parents basements, will love. I'll be posting three to four times a week. You think that's a lot? Me too, but I'm retired, so what the hell? And it will give me a chance to start trying my hand again at cartooning, something my father used to beg me to choose as a career. Of course, he also kept insisting I wear black garbage bags and eat nothing but dog biscuits.

So, watch for the first of the new HOUSE OF STERNBERG tomorrow. It will look the same, but now with more "Sternberg." Hey, it's a process.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Who Needs Creativity?

For years and years small film makers have attempted to cash in on blockbusters by putting out cheaply made knock-offs with similar names and artwork in hopes that someone might rent or purchase their product without paying attention that they're really not buying what they think they are buying. And then there are those people who will watch anything, so there's that.

Consider the recent San Andreas Quake, released mostly to direct-to-home video in a pathetic attempt to cash in on the pre-publicity of the blockbuster San Andreas featuring The Rock, which itself is not a great film, but at least someone gave the filmmakers a budget. And the most recent addition to the Jurassic Park franchise is currently competing, successfully, with this ...Jurassic City!

But this is the best!!! Avengers Grimm is an attempt to steal attention from  Avengers' Age of Ultron.. I mean, really? The synopsis someone named The Asylum supplied to IMDB is hilarious:

When Rumpelstiltskin destroys the Magic Mirror and escapes to the modern world, the four princesses of "Once Upon A Time" - Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Rapunzel- are sucked through the portal too. Well-trained and endowed with magical powers, the four women must fight Rumpelstiltskin and his army of thralls before he enslaves everyone on Earth.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Home, Sweet Home

Oakley Manor

What does The Curse of Frankenstein, Die Monster Die, Dracula, and Rocky Horror Picture Show all have in common? Why, the gorgeous Oakley Manor, thank you. That amazing piece of real estate that can become a character all its own, whether it's the haunt of Christopher Lee as Dracula or the decadent digs of Frank-n-Furter. Of course, now the manor has been sold and turned into a hotel, so maybe this property, built in 1859 is a bit tamer.  But that got me thinking about some other properties we've seen in film over the years.

The Ettington Hotel

Anyone who appreciates the history of horror in the cinema must remember the house in The Haunting, based on a novel by Shirley Jackson and directed by Robert Wise. It was a creepy bit of film and the sort of psychological ghost story that stays with you. The star of the story, apologies to Clare Bloom and Julie Harris, is the now converted Ettington Hotel in Warwickshire, England. The gorgeous property is reputed to be one of the most haunted sites in the world. You can read about its impressive history here. Ghosts or not, the Ettington is a magnificent edifice, a brooding structure that is at once imposing and imperial.

Carey Mansion

The United States has some interesting sites, too. People who recently saw Dark Shadows might recognize the Collinwood Manor from the TV series and movies. This Gothic structure was built in Rhode Island back in 1907 by a whiskey millionaire and is actually known as the Carey Mansion, and like most of these old homes, its reputation is heavy with supernatural rumblings.
The Stanley Hotel

But as popular as the above houses may be, perhaps my favorite is The Stanley Hotel in Colorado. You might know it by another name: The Overlook, popularized by the film and novel, The Shining. The hotel smartly embraces its haunted reputation and cinematic history and even has a ghGhost Hunters television show.
ost package for visitors. The hotel was the subject of one of the most popular investigations of Syfy's

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Beginning The Path To Mindfulness

I have started exploring the concept of mindfulness as put forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The idea behind this philosophy is that we need to increase awareness of who we are in any given point or moment. We need to expand awareness. It is a Buddhist concept, but it is being used for stress reduction, depression, and pain management. And research has shown the practice of mindfulness can actually bring about changes in the brain.

One concept presented in Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness for Beginners is that "If you are preoccupied with what is already known, you can't make that leap into that other dimension of creativity or imagination." As a writer, that statement gave me pause.

In practicing mindfulness we must work in the here and the now and not allow the past to influence us. We must appreciate who and what we are without judgment. This idea sort of harkens back to one of the basic tenets one finds in the Twelve Step philosophy, mainly that we need to recognize things from the past beyond our control and move on with life. The Serenity Prayer goes: "Help me see the things I can change, accept the things I can't, and grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the two."

As a writer though, I live in the past. When I write, I conjure up experience and transform memory and sensation into something relatable for a reader. I recall being frustrated by the old tenet: "Write what you know." I always felt that so limiting. But what it meant was write based on your transformative experiences, write emotions and ideas familiar to you, and if you tackle new concepts, make sure they are grounded in the foundation of those already laid.

Looking at mindfulness, I ponder that if I live in the here and now, then how will that affect one's writing? It is the opposite of "write what you know." Or is it? Maybe not. Maybe we must first be aware of the present as writers, shedding the stressors and biases outside our work before immersing ourselves in the world created. Maybe our failure to do that is why so often our writing changes through the course of a short story or book. We don't see it in the short term, but how often have we returned to something written and seen passages or ideas that stand out as flawed.?

I have much to learn about mindfulness, and I'm still skeptical of the idea, but maybe I will try practicing meditating before writing this summer. I will try approaching my work by first shedding a skin that might block or affect the process. We'll see how that turns out. I'll report back and let you know.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Look At That!!!

As I watched It Follows, a tense horror film well worth anyone's time, I pointed at the screen and proclaimed, "Hey, that's The Redford Theater. Oh my gosh, that was filmed in Detroit. That was the theater where Evil Dead previewed, although they didn't call it that at the time. I was there. Raimi and Campbell were there. You know they were from Michigan!"

And thankfully the theater was near empty. But nonetheless, I kept looking for and spotting landmarks from around the city and suburbs, delighting in each discovery.

Why? Why do we Midwesterners respond that way? I'm sure Californians don't exclaim.."Look, that's the Hollywood sign!" and people from New York don't point out what route a police chase is taking by noting familiar landmarks flashing on the screen. And surely people about Washington D.C. don't freak out when someone is filming a political thriller.

So what's with us Midwesterns? Why do we take the hokum factor and blow it up times ten? Why do we take such childlike delight in the familiar?

And it's not a new factor. I remember in the seventies going to see The Betsy, a story based on Harold Robbins' potboiler about the auto industry, and Beverly Hills Cop, and in both instances doing the same thing in a theater, along with the rest of the audience. "Hey, did you see that? Eddie Murphy is driving down the John C. Lodge! I know that overpass!!!"

It's the way it is. and it says something about Midwestern culture. We don't expect the extraordinary. We don't think of life as exciting. We work. We go home. We go to work the next day. We delight not in seeing the sensational, but in recognizing the ordinary. It's who we are.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hey, Ma, I'm Graduating!

On June 4th I will stand in front of the 2015 graduating class and for the 21st time hand out diplomas and heartfelt congratulations. But this time it's different, and a little bitter-sweet, but also exciting. This time, I'm saying goodbye. But not retiring. No, I'm graduating. After twenty years, I'm finally matriculating.

And leaving school behind after these many years I'll remember the three things I tell students.

First, that education is an ongoing process, and we are lifelong learners. At sixty, I have a few more years of learning ahead of me. And what is more exciting than the challenge of the unknown? Of seeing an obstacle and meeting it?

Second, that life is fluid and ever-changing. We need to appreciate the here and now. I've said that constantly, and now studying mindfulness, I am reminded of the importance of that philosophy. In the past I've had the graduating class rise and face their parents and family, hoping they'll realize how elusive this experience, and how it is gone before they can appreciate that. My parents are gone. And I wish I had walked in my own graduation those forty-two years ago. Forty-two years. But I didn't. I was a rebel and didn't understand what rite of passage I was forsaking. So this year, I will face my wife and smile, and raise my hand, and acknowledge what I should have those many years ago.

Third, I will embrace the importance of relationships. All are unique and we must accept people as they are and not as something we want them to be.

I'm graduating. I'm painting my car, driving through town and honking my horn, and I'm going to stay up all night and celebrate the passing of one phase of life and the arrival of another. After twenty years, I'm finally getting out of high school.

Friday, May 15, 2015

B.B. King Remembered

Riley B. King, better known as B.B. King, or Blues Boy King, passed at the age of 89. He helped shape modern music and was an ambassador for the art form of the blues. He was a dynamo, touring up to the last couple months, with dates still planned for late into this year. I had a chance to see him a few years back when he performed on a bill with Etta James and Al Green, although Etta James was a no show due to illness (she would pass in 2012).

Here are three things about B.B. you may not have known:

  • His guitar was named Lucille. He named it one night in Arkansas when a fight broke out in a bar he was playing. In the course of the violence, someone started a fire. B.B. fled the bar, but had to run back into the burning building to retrieve his guitar. He named it Lucille after that night, for the woman who started that fire.                                                                                                  
  • B.B. King couldn't play guitar and sing at the same time. Listen to him or watch him and you'll see this. Or as B.B. tells it: "When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille."                                                                                                                    
  • Frank Sinatra was King's favorite performer, and King credits Sinatra for helping out black performers seeking access to venues at a time when those doors were closed. From B.B.'s autobiography, Blues All Around Me, "I'd started playing all black clubs on the edge of Vegas. That was back in the fifties. By the seventies, Sid was able to slip me into Caesar's Palace, thanks to Frank Sinatra, who was headlining. They asked Sinatra whether it was all right for me to play Nero's Nook, the lounge. 'Hell, Yes!' he said. Not just 'Yes', but 'Hell, Yes!' That meant a lot to me."

B.B. King, we will miss your wit, your easy going manner, and your smooth guitar work. 

The Muted Voice

In 1983 close to 50 companies owned the bulk of media around the world. That meant we had film and book reviews we could trust, and thoroughly researched news stories. It meant that the news departments of different outlets were independent of the advertising departments and took pride in that.

Not so much today. I recently watched my morning news program, an affiliate of ABC, and cringed at three to five minutes spent on an account of the previous evening's Dancing With The Stars, as if it was actually newsworthy. Then my news channel spent the rest of the program featuring stories from outside our state, basically picking up video of car chases and crashes.

Later in the day I read book and movie reviews in Entertainment Weekly, a magazine owned by Time Warner, who owns  Warner Brothers, HBO, Cinemax, Cartoon Network, TBS, CNN, Warner
etc...and wondered how I could trust EW's glossy reporting and reviews. How could I trust the majority of critics when they worked for a magazine owned by the people who made the entertainment product?

Does it matter? Why should we care? Maybe because without an independent voice we lose something as a society. Maybe because I value independent thought and worry that when so much power is concentrated in the hands of so few that abuse of such power is only a matter of time.

Maybe for now it's a starting point spreading the awareness and keeping in mind the chart provided by NPR, although don't blink, because in the business world of mergers and acquisitions ownership can be hard to follow.