James Cook: Guest Post for the Summer of Zombies Blog Tour!

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 For today’s blog entry, I’m rather proud to give my proverbial podium to a guest author for the Summer of Zombies Blog Tour.  That would be James N. Cook, whose pic is below, followed by a brief introduction from James and a free excerpt from the new zombie novel which he co-wrote with another esteemed fellow horror author, Joshua Guess. Take it away, dude!

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Hello everyone, and thanks for having me. For this post, I decided not to bore you to death with a bunch of anecdotes, un-funny jokes, and observations that no one cares to hear. I am not here to tell you all about how awesome of a writer I am, and why you should buy my books, and how hard I’ve struggled, and blah, blah, blah. Rather, I’d like to simply show you. This is an actual chapter from an upcoming novel I am co-authoring with Living With the Dead creator Joshua Guess. Its title is The Passenger, and we expect to publish it sometime in mid-to-late July. I hope you like it. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Excerpt from the upcoming novel The Passenger, by James N. Cook and Joshua Guess.

 

 

The trouble started, as it usually did, with the crack of a rifle.

A high-powered one by the sound of it, Ethan thought. The bullet smashed into the operator’s compartment on the u-trac, and if not for the four inches of ballistic glass between Gus and the rest of the world, his head would have burst like a melon. As it was, the grizzled engineer barely flinched.

“Looks like we got company.”

Ethan looked at Jones to find him grinning broadly. The handsome man’s smile faltered, however, when more rifles fired and nearly a dozen rounds broke themselves against the armor of their passenger car. Ethan snatched up his rifle and leapt to his feet.

“Backs to the wall!” he shouted.

Delta squad surged up from the bench and fanned out against the two-inch thick steel walls standing between them and whoever it was firing on the u-trac. Ethan peered out the narrow window and looked across the tall grass separating the tracks from the treeline less than a hundred yards away. As he watched, the branches parted and swirled, and over a dozen horsemen broke cover and began driving their mounts hard toward the slow-moving transport. The riders stood up in their saddles, knees bent with boots locked into stirrups, leveled their mismatched rifles, and began firing.

“Goddamn, how’d they know we were coming?”

Ethan turned his head to look at Jones who stood pressed against the wall beside him. “You see they have horses, right? Probably a patrol spotted us and then rode back to get his friends. This shit-heap we’re riding only goes about ten miles an hour.”

Jones nodded understanding just as another volley of gunfire peppered the wall.

“Fuck,” Ethan swore. It was only a matter of time until one of those rounds found its way through a firing port, and when that happened, the ricochet would rip them to pieces. Gotta make these assholes back off.

“Jones, get that SAW up the ladder,” Ethan said. “Schmidt, Holland, Cormier, lay down cover fire until he can get the hatch open. Fuller, Page, Hicks, cover the other side. Shoot anything that fucking moves. Smith, make sure Jones doesn’t run out of ammo.”

Private Smith stood ashen-faced against the wall, sweating bullets in spite of the cold and clutching his rifle with trembling hands. Looking at him, Ethan remembered his own first taste of combat. The lurching in his stomach, the pounding of his heart, the rasp of his own rapid, panicky breath grating in his ears. There was only one cure for that ailment, and that was to get into the fight.

“Smith! You fucking deaf?”

He jerked and looked at Ethan, the whites of his eyes round and bulging. “Yeah. I mean no. I mean … I hear you, sergeant. I got it.” He shuffled over to dull metal case mounted against the wall, flipped the latch, opened it, and took out a green box of belted 5.56mm NATO ammunition. As he did so, Jones hefted his M-240 Squad Automatic Weapon—or just SAW, as it was more commonly known—and stepped up the short ladder that led to the roof of the passenger car. He turned the handle to unlock it, but stayed bent beneath the hatch.

“All right, open fire!” Ethan shouted. He leveled his rifle through the narrow firing port and began squeezing off rounds. The riders were approaching fast and firing as quickly as they could. Try as he might, Ethan couldn’t get a good shot at any of them. Behind him, he heard Justin, Cormier, and Holland open fire as well.

“Got one!” Holland shouted. As Ethan watched, one of their pursuers slumped over and fell from his saddle. His boot remained lodged in the stirrup, and his horse continued to gallop along, dragging his limp, flailing body along with it. The riders behind the dead man saw what happened to him, and began to back off. The ones in front, oblivious to their cohort’s fate, continued their pursuit. One of them came level with the rear car, reached into a saddlebag behind him, and produced some kind of improvised explosive. A very large one. Where the hell did he get that? Ethan couldn’t get the man in his sights, so he shifted his aim lower and squeezed off a short burst. The man’s mount screamed as several rounds tore into its lower chest and the thick muscles of its legs. The animal pitched forward, rolling and thrashing and crushing his hapless rider. As he fell, the explosive went flying through the air and detonated several yards behind the u-trac’s rear wheels.

“They’ve got some kind of fucking grenades!” Ethan shouted. “Isaac, time to earn your paycheck!”

Jones’ teeth stood out sharp and white as he smiled. “Hell to the yeah, baby.”

He pushed the hatch open with one meaty hand, surged up through the opening, and leveled his SAW.

“WHOOOOO YEAH MOTHERFUCKER!”

Short, staccato bursts of fire poured from the heavy weapon, tearing into the approaching riders and sending them tumbling to the ground in screaming, bloody heaps. Some of the rounds went low and caught the horses, but there wasn’t much Jones could do about that. The SAW wasn’t the most accurate weapon in the world.

At the same time, the squads riding in the other passenger cars finally got it together and began adding their rifles to the fray. Whatever the raiders had been expecting when they set out to pursue the u-trac, it hadn’t been hardened soldiers cutting them to ribbons with a withering hail of hot lead. Panicked, the ones still alive veered their mounts around and pounded away back toward the cover of the trees.

“Aw, come on now. Get back here bitches, you know you LOOOOOVE this shit!”

The big gunner fired a final burst at the retreating marauders before stepping down and closing the hatch behind him. Jones’ face glowed with excitement. Ethan shook his head.

“Nice work, gentlemen. You too, Smith.”

The young private was still standing by the ladder clutching his box of ammo. “Me? I didn’t even do anything.”

Ethan stepped forward and clapped him on the arm. “Sure you did. I gave you an order and you followed it. You didn’t freeze up, or panic.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial whisper. “You didn’t shit yourself, did you?”

Smith let out a nervous laugh. “No, I didn’t.”

Ethan stood up straight and grinned at the younger man. “Then you did just fine. Maybe next time I’ll even let you do some of the fighting.”

Smith’s smile grew sickly, then disappeared altogether.

The door at the far end of the car opened, and Lieutenant Jonas stepped through the narrow opening, careful not to step into the short length of empty space separating the command car from Delta’s passenger carriage. “Everyone all right in here? Anybody hurt?”

“No sir,” Ethan replied. “We’re all good.” He turned to Smith. “Check the other cars for me, private. Find out if there are any casualties.”

Smith nodded. “I’m on it.”

As the private hustled to the next adjoining car, Jonas stepped closer to Ethan. “Did my eyes deceive me, or were those raiders on horseback?”

“Yes sir, they were.”

The lieutenant ran a hand over the back of his neck, his mouth forming a thin, hard line. “Well ain’t that just fucking wonderful. How much you want to bet those sons of bitches are from Hamlet?”

“I’m not a betting man sir, but I’d say your odds are pretty good.”

“And now they have bombs.” Jonas shuffled over to a window and planted a hand against the wall as he stared out. “We’re the first u-trac to come out this way, Thompson. And now they’ve seen us. I guaran-damn-tee you that by tomorrow these tracks are going to be lousy with IED’s. Fucking Hamlet. Place is a goddamn den of thieves, and slavers, and insurgent scum. I’ve got half a mind to radio for permission to go root those fuckers out.”

Ethan watched the older man move to the bench and sit down, back straight. He looked incongruous with just a single bar on his collar. Most of the officers his age had oak leaves or eagles with wings spread wide. It was easy to forget that Jonas had spent most of his career in the Army as an enlisted man, working his way up the through the ranks the hard way. He’d seen more than his share of combat, and wasn’t afraid to take up arms and get in the thick of things when the situation required it. Because of this, and his deep understanding of the needs and concerns of his soldiers, the trust and respect he got from his men was absolute. Nevertheless, the idea of walking blindly into hostile territory—and going off-mission to do it—struck Ethan as not being the best of ideas.

“What about Pope? Maybe they could send out a drone to recon the place, find out what we’re up against. I’m not afraid of a fight sir, but I don’t like the idea of going in blind. Not if we can help it, at least. There’s no sense in getting ourselves killed needlessly.”

A less experienced officer may have bristled at Ethan’s suggestion, if not his tone. Jonas, however, nodded calmly. He knew good advice when he heard it, and he wasn’t arrogant enough to think that his experience precluded him from making mistakes. The Army had NCO’s for a reason, after all.

“You’re right sergeant, as usual. Still, knowing those fuckers are out there…”

Holland spoke up, “If you want LT, I can take a couple of guys and go scout it out. See what I can find. Maybe make some trouble for ‘em.”

Jonas thought about it for a moment, but shook his head. “No. I appreciate your courage Holland, but I can’t spare you. Besides, we’re behind schedule as it is, we can’t afford the delay.”

The door to the car opened, and Private Smith stepped back through. “No casualties, sir. Everybody’s okay.”

Jonas stood up. “Good, good. Any fight you survive is a good one, right men?”

Delta Squad nodded in agreement, their faces grim as they remembered fights that not all of them had walked away from. Fights where they had lost friends, men who were so familiar, who had shared so much terror and hardship, that they were like family. Brothers, all of them. Private Smith shuffled his feet and remained silent. He had been assigned to Delta after his predecessor was killed in the line of duty. He didn’t know the circumstances of the man’s death, but he knew the other soldiers of First Platoon had taken the loss hard. And none harder than the men around him.

“You all did well today,” Jonas said. “That was a good, fast response. Especially you, Jones, you’re a goddamn nightmare with that SAW.”

The gunner grinned. “You know what they say, sir. Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Jonas barked a short laugh. “Damn right. All right then, looks like we’re squared away.” He gestured at Ethan. “Staff sergeant, round up the other squad leaders and get reports from them. Command is going to want to know what we just expended valuable ammunition on.”

“Yes sir.”

“The rest of you keep your eyes peeled for trouble. Holland, put that scope of yours to use and watch our back trail. Those raiders might find their spines and decide to pay us another visit. If they do, I want warning well ahead of time.”

Holland nodded. “Want me to get the other DM’s to do the same, sir?”

“No, just you and Sergeant Kelly for now. Rotate out with the other two in a couple of hours.”

“Will do.”

Ethan watched the Lieutenant open the door and step back into the command car. He caught a glimpse of the cot along the wall, and the chair bolted to the floor in front of a small desk. It would have been mean accommodations under other circumstances, but standing there in the bare passenger car, he felt like some character from a Dickens novel wandering through the cold and staring through a window at Christmas dinner. The door shut, and the room was lost to view. He sighed, his shoulders slumping.

Time to round up the other squad leaders. Time to write a report.

Goddamn I hate paperwork.

*****

 

 

Hamlet passed by to the north of the u-trac much the same as any other town.

Ethan watched the outlines of buildings in the distance as they slowly drifted from left to right, little more than grey and brown husks against the blue morning haze. Even from this far away, he could see the empty, yawning holes staring out from behind shattered windows, the black scorch marks left behind by long ago fires, and the sharp, stabbing fingers of I-beams, support struts, and shattered concrete pillars where office complexes and government buildings had once stood — all collapsed now. All reduced to great, mountainous heaps of forgotten rubble.

Across the depressing expanse between the town and the tracks, littered like corpses on a battlefield, lay houses, businesses, long-dead industrial facilities, and sagging structures that seemed to have no identifiable purpose at all. Every visible wall was crowded with vines and creepers that swarmed over rooftops in choking, skeletal tangles. Autumn’s chill had turned everything brown and dead, and blanketed the landscape in an ocean of endless beige beneath a cloudy, pewter-colored sky. All seemed still out there. Abandoned. Quiet.

Ethan knew better.

There were eyes out there. Many eyes, and none of them friendly. They watched the tracks, he knew. They watched, and they would remember. He would not have been surprised if word of the brief, bloody firefight had already reached the ears of the other marauders holed up in that shattered ruin of a town. Nor would it have surprised him to learn that their plans for retaliation were already in motion. That was what they did, these marauder bands. They fought. They killed. They took from others. And if they were attacked, their response was never proportional, never just an eye for an eye. They were vicious, savage people, with no regard for anyone’s lives other than their own. Often, they even fought amongst each other, robbing, raping and stealing.

It was a well-known fact in the Army that you didn’t go after marauders with half measures. You didn’t just hit them and hope they would learn their lesson. These were people who didn’t back down from a fight. Didn’t run away. Didn’t get intimidated by the occasional strafing run or mortar bombardment. If a platoon was sent to take down known marauders, it wasn’t just a police action. It wasn’t just an effort to bring them to heel.

It was total annihilation.

Kill them all, root and branch, or die in the attempt. And dying wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. More than once, entire platoons had limped back to Fort Bragg decimated and in shambles, most of their men dead or dying of wounds or infection. Contrary to what all the strategists had predicted, the marauders were becoming increasingly well-armed. Unexplainably, alarmingly so. They were determined, these insurgents and raiders, and they were getting better at their craft. And out there, across that cracked veneer of dead civilization, was an unknown number of them.

Waiting. Plotting. 

Ethan stood near the wall, his face close to the chill, gently blowing air outside, and stared out the narrow window as the u-trac slowly rattled along. He searched rooftops for movement, eyes narrowed, jaw constantly working. He searched the tall grass for the telltale streaks of lighter brown that would indicate someone having passed through recently. He breathed in deeply through his nose, trying to catch the acrid odor of wood smoke born on the wind. He listened for the crack of distant rifles echoing across the low, gently rolling hills. But mostly he simply watched, gaze unfocused, never letting his eyes rest on one spot for too long, determined to spot trouble if it was out there. He rested his head against one thick forearm, and for long into the morning, he watched.

He watched, and he worried.

 

 

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I sincerely hope that you liked this excerpt, and if you want to check out more of my work, or Josh’s, just click the links below:

 

James N. Cook on Amazon 

Josh Guess on Amazon

 

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I Just Saw THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE

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After seeing this film, you will wince every single time you read or hear somebody shout “kiss my ass!” Guaranteed.

Well, I just did it again. No, not that! I meant, I just worked up the nerve to watch yet another uber-infamous film in the horror genre. As in, one of those movies that are extremely notorious for being very difficult to sit through due to its particularly disturbing subject matter; thoroughly twisted premise; and scenes of horror and gore that are supposed to go beyond–well, I dunno, acceptable levels for a film containing scenes of horror and gore, I suppose. In other words, the type of film that gains a large amount of notoriety due to heaps of reviews describing how depraved the creative mind behind such a movie must be to unleash a celluloid monstrosity like it upon the world. 

 

It also holds the dubious, publicity-accruing dishonor of being banned by one or more national governments. After all, nothing builds a reputation of vileness and “omg, I gotta see it just once!” around a flick than when the elected–or appointed–officials of any government decide to get all paternalistic and spare us the burden of freedom of choice over what we might view. After all, what if we get traumatized by what we see, or worse yet, end up actually enjoying the depravity playing onscreen before us? Politicians would be remiss in their perceived responsibilities if they didn’t make sure our thoughts were sufficiently “free” of offensive imagery (or information) that the moral police (read: our elected parents) wouldn’t approve of.  Yanno, like the previously reviewed nasty piece of cinematic work known as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust.

 

But that’s an issue to be tackled here another day, in another category of this blog. This category is for reviews, and it’s about time I cut The Human Centipede down to its component parts–which in this case are three human beings surgically combined to give the concept of “togetherness” a very uncomfortable twist.

 

Yes, Dutch director and screenwriter Tom Six did indeed indulge in some of the darkest fantasies any human being could be expected to conceive so as to bring us a truly warped addition to international cinema that wouldn’t exactly make a good date film, nor a movie you would show to the fam during your periodic holiday get-togethers. Or just before dinner on any occasion or day of the week, even when confined to the good company of just yourself.

 

First, without judging, let’s call a spade a spade: Six did indeed take torture and humiliation “porn” in an entirely new and utterly ghastly direction. Within the dark recesses of his mind were several scenarios exploring what would happen if a brilliant but truly demented surgeon who specialized in separating conjoined twins decided to do his work in reverse, and create a “pet”–read: hapless torture object–out of three living creatures of the same species who were surgically attached to each other mouth-to-anus, while sharing one long, artificially constructed digestive system.

 

Now imagine this medically skilled lunatic (perhaps a metaphorical “stand-in” for Six himself?) first doing this to a threesome of rottweiller dogs. Then try–however hard that may be for a sane person–to imagine that uniting three dogs into a single pathetic life form for your own amusement and mental need to vent via subjecting another life form to torturous humiliation wasn’t enough. You can only get so much pleasure out of doing this to life forms who were non-sentient, and thus not fully capable of appreciating the sheer horror and trauma of being surgically “conjoined” in such a fashion, i.e., where two of the party of three have their mouths become permanently part of someone else’s rectum, with the “lead” of the three having to do all the eating for both himself and his two new gastric mates.

 

No, unfortunately, I’m not making this up. And don’t call me depraved for reporting this, because it wasn’t my mind that spawned this rather unpleasant little storyline *points an accusing finger in Mr. Six’s general direction*  I was just a helpless bystander, i.e., the schmuck who sat before the screen and watched Six’s demented fantasies played out on the small screen before me, as if I had a direct line to the usually suppressed part of his psyche that Freud liked to call the id. How kind of Mr. Six to share his darkest thoughts with us in such a direct fashion.

 

Now, before it sounds like I’m going to join the herd and spew a self-righteous tirade against Six in defense of Victorian notions of moral propriety, let me make one thing clear:  I believe his exploration of his own dark fantasies, and horrifically original way of playing out the time-honored theme of “emotional venting” by subjecting various targeted individuals to relentless physical abuse, were crafted into a surprisingly effective horror film and dark comedy that explores the depths of human despair and insanity. It explicitly depicts the nightmarish relationship between a master and enforced trio of slaves–made into a single slave by brutal and brilliant surgical craftsmanship–as the former seeks to teach the latter tri-victim their “place” in one of the most unimaginable nightmares anyone could possibly find themselves in. So maybe we should thank Six for having the audacity to actually imagine something like this and then commit it to celluloid.

 

But first, let’s take the time for a brief synopsis. To make a long nightmare short (i.e., bearable), two college girls from America, Lindsay (very beautiful Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (kinda adequate by comparison Ashlynn Yennie) are taking what I presumed to be a spring break trip in Germany for some reason. Possibly all the vacation packages to Cancun or Montego Bay had been sold out by the time they got enough money together, or something. Anyway, these girls suffer one of those terrifying coincidences that thankfully only seem to happen to people–quite often groups of college students–who live in horror films: Their car breaks down on a lonely Germanic road, and they find themselves needing to approach the nearest home and throw themselves on the mercy of its occupant(s) to call for help. And of course, in fine horror film tradition, they just happen to be in the neighborhood containing the worst possible house whose doorstep they could possibly step upon. Also as expected, this villa is the only “game in town” (or at least on the road), considering the dearth of other homes in the area. Convenient for the plot, eh?

 

The girls turn out to be a wet dream come true for home owner Dr. Josef Heiter, the aforementioned demented surgeon; but not for the reasonable reason one would imagine!

 

The role of the Evil Doc was played most excellently by actor Dieter Laser, and a better choice by whomever the casting director may have been could not have been found. Laser is profoundly creepy and deranged as the tremendously sadistic, torture-loving doctor, and it’s his portrayal more than anything else that may give me lasting nightmares. Thin as a rail with those unnervingly protruding cheek bones (imagine the head of a mannequin with too much wood under the artificial skin), Dieter’s onscreen character is the quintessential black sheep of the human race, and a truly horrifying cinematic specimen to behold. It’s actually a filthy shame (well, not quite as filthy as Six’s imagination, but yanno what I mean) that most of Dr. Heiter’s past was shrouded in as much darkness as both his soul and Six’s imagination. Then again, perhaps the notoriety of this franchise will one day encourage Six to create a prequel to the First Sequence, something like The Man Who Made The Human Centipede: Prologue Sequence. I’m sure Heiter’s life story on film would be a spectacle that got banned even in France and Japan, especially if it was conceived by the likes of Mr. Six.

 

And speaking of Japan while also getting back to the synopsis: No sooner do Lindsay and Jenny fall into Heiter’s clutches then the Doc soon finds a loud-mouthed and spirited Japanese guy named Katsuro (the very loud Aikhiro Kitamura) to provide the “lead” for his mad creation of anatomical nuttiness. Where he acquires Katsuro from, I have no idea; he sorta just walks into his hidden basement-cum-surgical lab with the unconscious man over his shoulder. It’s one of the things about this movie you had to just sit there and accept, and not ask too many questions about; otherwise you would get frequently bitten by a psycho-metaphorical creature I like to call the Logic Shark. And its bite hurts quite a bit!

 

 At any rate, the three hapless “guests” of Dieter wake up tied to their own surgical beds, and as one might expect, they’re in a state of realistically portrayed and totally understandable terror, far worse than what you experience when confronted by a creepily leering dentist when you needed to be put out for a tooth extraction. And their state of mind wasn’t helped any when Heiter began playing his sadistic game on the psychological level by meticulously and gleefully describing each step of the procedure that would unite them into a single organism, including the precise number of teeth that had to be removed from someone’s mouth in order for it to be permanently grafted to another person’s anus; how the lips had to be removed in a circular fashion to allow the attachment; etc., et al. The horror experienced by these three at literally being the butts of this mad doctor’s sick joke was palpable to the viewing audience.

 

Well, I should mention that Lindsay made a heroic effort to escape, and this provided the only scene in the movie that really made me get sick and light-headed for a bit (yes, I endured, though not easily; but much more easily than the motion sickness I experienced watching Cloverfield). Perhaps that happened due to the fact that I had just recently been admitted to the hospital for the first time in my life, and experienced I.V. units stuck in my arm and hand for the first time. The relevance of that to the scene in question? Well, let’s just say that Lindsay’s harried escape from her hospital bed without bothering to carefully remove the I.V. needle inserted into her vein showed me exactly the mess I would have experienced if I would had reason to hurriedly vacate my bed during the two nights of my hospital stay.

 

This led to a sequence in the movie where Heiter pursued Lindsay throughout his massive villa, while she did everything one panicky person could expect to do while being chased by a doctor straight out of Hell who was wielding a tranq rifle. I don’t think I’m giving you a true spoiler here by making it clear that her efforts, however noble, were ultimately futile; everyone reading this is well aware that the movie wasn’t titled The Attempted Human Centipede or Dr. Heiter’s Human Centipede That Almost Was.

 

So, to bring a capsule synopsis to completion, Dr. Heiter did the surgery, and his three guests spent the rest of the film trying to escape from an inescapable nightmare they couldn’t wake up from. It has to be seen to be believed, trust me. Six rarely hesitates to indulge in every horrid possibility this mega-lurid torture porn fantasy scenario provides for him and his dumbstruck viewers. So, I think I can answer a few questions you readers  may likely have if you’ve read this far, even if you are highly reluctant to know the answers; don’t worry, I won’t go into too much detail!

 

Yes, we do find out exactly how a bowel movement is conducted by this artificially created triune freak of surgical craftsmanship. Yes, we do see exactly how poor Lindsay reacts to being the “middle person” in this freakish anatomical abomination when Katsuro can’t hold it in any longer (he apologizes in a heartfelt manner, for whatever that may have been worth to Lindsay). And yes, Dr. Heiter openly enjoys the experience and cheers Katsuro on when this happens. And yes again, I wish I was making all of this up (not that I would have any inclination to do so, mind you!).

 

The surgical and gore effects were quite well done, with hardly a hint of CGI. I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing for a film like this. At any rate, part of the reason this celluloid atrocity (let’s be dramatic here!) saved on the budget was its small cast. Other than the Evil Doc and three Hapless Victims, the only other major characters were two Prying Ineffectual Police detectives who kept showing up at Heiter’s secluded home to investigate the reported disappearance of people, including of two girls whose vehicle was found in a damaged state near his home. The scenes where Heiter interacted with these detectives and struggled to his utmost to feign a cordial veneer and keep his immense ego and temper in check–and not always succeeding (big surprise!)–were as entertaining (!) as any other part of the film. Well, assuming the viewer is someone who finds anything about this movie entertaining, that is.

 

The only other two characters we saw was a Fat Perv Guy that could only speak in his native German who accosted Lindsay and Jenny early in the film when they were seeking help for their broken down car – his interaction with them, and the ensuing misunderstandings due to their inability to understand each others’ language, was like something straight out of an R-rated version of Three’s Company; and another fat sloppy guy who was tranqued and captured by Heiter near the beginning of the movie when he attempted to take a dump outside in the Doc’s secluded neighborhood complete with a roll of toilet paper in his hand. Alas, this guy wasn’t a good tissue match for the two girls, and thus was quickly euthanised. Despite his horror at being put to death, he had no idea how much luckier he was than poor Katsuro, who did turn out to be a good match in his place.

 

Another highlight of this film that needs to be seen to be believed is the drama surrounding the attempt by the Human Centipede–led (literally) by the intrepid and determined Katsuro–to escape from Heiter’s clutches when they have finally had enough of his abuse. What Katsuro has to do to get himself and his two conjoined surrogate sisters out of that house (and I’m not saying he succeeds, at least not fully) is both dramatic and horrendous, and the scene of them making haste to escape up a flight of stairs while Katsuro is constantly yelling “Eietch!” (or however you phonetically spell that awful sound he kept uttering during this scene) over and over again. This scene is especially harrowing when you consider how hard it is to crawl at any degree of speed when you’re basically a living train with another person’s face literally grafted to your ass, and another person having her face grafted to the ass of the chick directly behind your behind.

 

That scene will be as difficult to remove from your conscious mind as the one near the climax of Todd Browning’s infamous 1932 flick Freaks, where you saw a horde of badly deformed sideshow folks crawling through the mud during a storm to get at the treacherous carnie hottie Cleopatra and her equally corrupt strongman lover. And you may also find yourself forever contemplating what the hell it means when someone screams “Eietch!” repeatedly during heavy exertion. I wonder if you would hear that word shouted by athletes working out heavily in a Japanese weight-lifting club; or from a Japanese guy sitting on the porcelain throne while continuously attempting to eject a rock-hard turd from their system during a particularly severe bout of constipation . My gods, did watching that movie ever get to me!

 

Needless to say, Six did actually have some philosophical commentary to make in this film, especially embodied in Katsuro’s sad spiel and revelation towards the end of the movie. Many viewers and reviewers deny the existence of any such statements being prese in this film, but they’re there if you look hard enough. Believe it or not, “depraved” fantasies often carry inherent social messages or memes played out in a specific fashion within one’s private thoughts–but one can only share them in visual form with others if they happen to be a filmmaker who can find the budget, equipment, and thespians willing to act them out in front of a camera. The cast of this film were all commendable in putting aside their dignity in favor of artistic achievement (or something like that).

 

The film ends largely as you would expect it to end if it was scripted with someone of Tom Six’s mindset. Yes, a final confrontation between the ultra-arrogant Heiter and the investigating detectives does ensue, leaving no party very happy in the end, including the viewer. And yes, a personal revelation about Katsuro during an introspective moment on his part results in a majorly fucked up final fate for Lindsay, the “middle person” of their conjoined status; pardon my French, but anything less than the use of a high-power expletive would understate the situation I’m referring to.

 

I certainly didn’t find this film be a blockbuster in horror cinema, but for the record, I didn’t think it sucked in any fashion. For those horrorphiles whose stomachs are reasonably sturdy, you may want to check this movie out. Its screenwriter/director does have relevant things to say, and he enjoys offending his audience in ways that are simultaneously ghastly and amusing. So if you end up getting offended by what you see onscreen with a strong urge to rant about how nothing like that should ever be allowed to get filmed, then Tom Six succeeded in doing his job. And it’s a golden opportunity for the intellectually-minded to observe the darker impulses of human nature dramatized before them in graphic, unflinching detail, and society should utilize such work as potentially valuable research tools to glean understanding of the worst parts of the human mind rather than attempting to hide them from public view via censorship. This is why censorship is the enemy of a democratic society rather than its moral savior. 

 

P.S. — Before someone reminds me in the comments, yes there is a sequel to the franchise (though not truly to the story in the film itself) called The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence by the same director and screenwriter, which is said to be well beyond even this one in terms of outrageous, darkly humorous torture porn; and a third by Tom Six–said to go well beyond the second one–titled The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence is slated for release later this year (it’s May 21, 2013 as I type these words). I guess Mr. Six has a powerful psychological need to get his most perverse fantasies onscreen, likely accompanied by a sadistic joy in riling up the pro-censorship pundits and the easily offended. Kudos to him, I say!

  

    

 

Birthday Tribute: Thomas J. Nigro, Late but Never Forgotten

Today is rather special, but strictly for a personal reason. As I noted on a previous blog entry, my grandfather, Thomas J. Nigro, passed on a few days before Halloween of ’12. In that special R.I.P. entry, I mentioned several things about the rocky relationship we had for so many years, but also the many good memories we shared, my own regrets about the various issues we had, and ultimately, why I am glad that the venerable Thomas J. was my grandfather.

This brings us to today: It would have been my grandfather’s 90th birthday had he lived another half a year. I feel sad and a bit teary-eyed as I type these words, not only because I miss him as much as I do, but also because of the typical dwelling on all the might-have-beens that come to mind on a day like this. Why couldn’t I have been more patient and understanding with him before his physical decline began several years prior to his passing? For all the years he let me reside with him, why couldn’t I have tried harder during that time to get along better with him? Why couldn’t I have realized sooner that wallowing in resentment is not healthy for you or anyone else around you? Yanno, those kinds of questions.

Alas, one of the traits I inherited from Thomas J.–other than the obnoxious sense of humor and love of “putting one over” on others, I should add–has to be a resolute stubbornness to bend when it comes to my personal boundaries. It’s one of the ways we were too much alike that exacerbated the problems related to the many ways we were so different, if that makes sense. The house we shared was simply too small for that many people living in it, if one of those people happened to be one who greatly valued their privacy and another was a person who felt privacy should be a non-issue (growing up in a modest-sized house with 11 siblings will do that to a person, yanno?). As a result…well, you can imagine, so no need to belabor with the stories.

But I don’t want to focus on our differences today. Or my many regrets, for that manner. Instead, I want to focus on the legacy that Thomas J. left behind, and how I’m determined to carry it on as best I can. Barely being aware of what cyberspace was, or having any interest in learning more about it, during the 20 years his life overlapped with the home computer revolution is no reason why his name and what he meant to those he left behind should be restricted to the print medium alone. A commemoration for him is certainly there today in the local papers (yes, treeware continues to exist!), courtesy of his son. But I think his grandson more than owed it to him to see that his name and life is remembered in the digital medium as well, even if it was a creature he paid scant attention to.

Since I can’t change the past, nor could I cure the ailments that afflicted him during his last years of life (all related to old age), I believe I should instead concentrate on doing my best to honor his memory in the future. Despite the differences we had, and the epic conflicts that resulted, never did he waver in taking care of his family, or providing a father figure to a grandson who never had one living with him.

I publicly apologize to him here for being as difficult to deal with as I so often was during our years together. just as I did in front of those assembled at his memorial service. I’m glad he lived to see his grandson become a published author, and I appreciate the supportive words he gave me for that accomplishment, a lifetime in the making. I may not be able to be exactly the type of grandson he wanted, but I can strive to be the best person I can possibly be, and in honor of his memory, I will always endeavor to live up to that lofty goal.

Happy Birthday, Thomas J. Your family and many friends all wish you were still here to celebrate it, telling more of your hilarious stories of the many classic incidents you experienced in life and being the very life and heart of our family get-togethers. And in spirit, you always will be there with us.

Thomas J. Nigro – 1923-2012

Why We Must Stop Tolerating U.S. Drone Attacks on Innocent People in the Middle East

military_drone_attacks
“Are you sure you programmed that thing to hit the right neighborhood, dude?”
“Of course I did! I think so, anyway. But look, even if I made a mistake and hit a wedding ceremony by accident, that’s what happens in war, okay? And it’s not like there’s any Americans down there or anything! Now stop worrying, get off my ass, and let’s finish this hand of cards before lunch break. Your whining is beginnin’ to irritate me now!”

Two Obamas, Two Classes of Children by Ralph Nader for CounterPunch

First, note the above link to an important article by Ralph Nader that was published in the April 12-14 weekend edition of CounterPunch. Now, please indulge me just a bit (it will be less of an ordeal for you than the people in the Middle East who are routinely enduring drone strikes on their families and property in the Middle East) by listening to my plea in response to Nader’s article.

These senseless killings of innocent citizens – including many children – by drone strikes authorized by President Obama in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) need to stop. The American people who act as cheerleaders for anything American soldiers do as long as the orders were granted by a high-ranking American politician or military general need to put their foot down and stop considering soldiers “heroes” as long as what they do is brave, with no consideration taken as to who they are ordered to fire upon (and btw, cold mechanical killing by computer-controlled, unmanned drone aircraft can hardly be considered an act of “bravery,” but simply a mindless machine carrying out pre-programmed orders).

We need to stop placing less value upon the lives of innocent non-Americans than we do the lives of people who so happen to share a legal citizenship with us. The lives of these people from foreign nations mean as much to their families as our own mean to us, and we need to realize this if we truly want to establish peace in this world and qualify as a decent society of people. We need to stop this incessant nationalistic and tribalistic chauvinism that encourages us to distance ourselves from the concerns of innocent people who live in other countries, and whose government may have an adversarial position to our government (usually meaning, it refuses to do business the way the U.S. and its close allies consider lucrative for them).

We need to start putting our foot down when the President needlessly imperils the lives of soldiers who are ostensibly fighting for this country, and to only use their armed might on obvious military targets that pose a proven, imminent threat to our shores or those of our allies–but without considering everyone who happens to have a citizenship of that country as “the enemy.” The average working class person of every nation, despite differences in culture or common form of religion from America, have no concern with war or the dirty political dealings of their government, and simply want to live their lives and raise their families with as much stability and safety as possible. Sound familiar?

If we only react emotionally to senseless attacks on innocent American citizens or American soil, is this truly out of genuine love and concern for our fellow human–or is it because our precious, pampered egos were insulted? You know, sort of like the ire the “honkeys” show when an “uppity nigger” hauls off and slaps a white person for no good reason, but it’s viewed as perfectly okay – or at least not nearly as big a deal – for a white slavemaster to do whatever he or she pleases to their “subhuman” chattel. Our fellow human beings do not include only those who share our citizenship, or who command the military forces supposedly representing our indigenous political territory–they include everyone who shares this planet with us. We need to show empathy for the losses and well-being of people all over the world, and to take responsibility for what this government and its Armed Forces do in our “good” name. Otherwise, we are no better than the common sociopath who lacks a conscience and possesses an easy ability to devalue the humanity of anyone other than themselves.

If we Americans do not practice the lofty ideals we commonly preach, or only apply them to fellow Americans, then those pronouncements are nothing more than empty platitudes we say to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. Citizens of this country like to say that the U.S. is a “great” nation, but in order for that to be true, we have to equate greatness with decency and tolerance, not with tremendous economic and military power over others–or a position of privilege and special deference in the world.

No one person–or society of people–who devalues the humanity of others are ever “great” in the favorable context of the word. In such an instance, they are simply “great” in terms of the size of the problem they present to the world.

military_drone

See this funky-looking aircraft? Well, it’s not from John Carter’s Barsoom, but the very planet we live on. If you happen to live in the Middle East and the U.S. isn’t on good business terms with your government, you may have the opportunity to see one or more flying over your neighborhood some day soon, if you haven’t already.

If so, you may also have the opportunity to find out how good you are at running around and dodging a hail of cluster bombs as your family members, friends, and everything you own blows up around you. That’s because you had the misfortune of living in a broad area where “signature strike” targets are believed to be hiding out (in other words, a lone individual or a few people whom the U.S. government has declared to be a “terrorist,” or “enemy combatant,” or whatever the latest politically popular, press-savvy term happens to be).

It may or may not be true. If it is, then you have regrettably become known as what politicians like to call “collateral damage.” If it isn’t true, then, “oops, sorry, but mistakes do happen, and you just have to expect them in war (but don’t worry, we’ll give our sponsors at Haliburton a fat exclusive contract to go over there and rebuild for you).”

If you escape reasonably intact, you can expect to be so embittered that you will develop a profound, vengeful hatred for the United States and everyone who lives in that country, rather than the small number of people who were actually behind the order that annihilated everything within a quarter mile of where you were standing. This is because you will be conditioned to consider all American citizens to be complicit with what their government does, just as Americans are conditioned to similarly dehumanize all of your fellow Middle Easterners for the irrational, abhorrent decisions that just a few of your citizens make.

Of course, that’s assuming it was actually made by a few people who share citizenship with you; the United States government tends to play favorites and pass the buck of blame depending on what Middle Eastern nation is good for business, and which isn’t, regardless of the citizenship of any given lunatic jihadists who attacked U.S. citizens or “interests.” After all, let’s not forget that the U.S. rationalized attacking and occupying Iraq in retaliation for the 9/11 tragedy while turning a blind eye towards its totally fascistic but good business partner Saudi Arabia when most of the Twin Tower destroyers were of Saudi citizenship, but none whatsoever were Iraqi. And yes, you can expect many of the American citizens to go along with it, because they feel it’s their quasi-divine responsibility to get all patriotic whenever their country goes to war, with no questions asked and any expressed opposition to be considered disrespectful & traitorous to the country and the troops.

You may then find yourself attracted to radical, fringe fundamentalist religious ideology that tries to recruit you for its own insane attacks on innocent foreign targets that you no longer value as human lives. That fascist, authoritarian fundamentalist religion is remarkably similar to its great rival, America’s home-grown fundamentalist Christianity, in the policies and attitudes it encourages, btw. So try to be mindful of those symptoms, okay?

You will then be involved in a holy crusade fought between two police state ideologies posing as religion, with each using the usual metaphysical, “it’s in the scriptures!” rhetoric to justify why all the people on one side deserves to live and the other side doesn’t, and why God has chosen you over them and vice versa, yadda yadda yadda, ad infinitum.

If you come out reasonably intact from the cluster bomb dodging game, that is; I didn’t make any promises! After all, it’s hard to go all medieval on “the enemy” in the name of glorious vengeance and mindless fervor for violence against “Them” when you’re missing three limbs and have to receive your dinner through an I.V. tube for the rest of your life (yanno, because the major portion of your bowels were lost when a few shards of shrapnel from the bomb salvo eviscerated you).

Just sayin’.

BELLOWS OF THE BONE BOX — the newest horror anthology to feature a short story by yours truly — is now available

Bellows of the Bone Box is a new horror anthology by Sirens Call Publications that combines the horror and steampunk genres. I am pleased to announce that one of the 12 stories featured in this anthology is from yours truly. It was a major honor to get my story accepted for this anthology by the great crew at Sirens Call, and to share the book with the bylines of many great writers. The other writers in this anthology are:

Brad Bass, Paul Boulet, Laura Brown, Vivian Caethe, Alex Chase, Megan Dorei, O.M. Grey, Tarl Hoch, Gavin Ireland, Kirk Jones, and Kate Monroe.

This is my first foray into the growing popularity of steam punk sci-fi – though combined with strong horror elements – so I’m rather stoked. My own short story, “Rip Me a New One, Jack!”, features an alternate reality London circa 1880s where the computer revolution took place in the 19th century based upon the cultural design aesthetics and steam-powered technology of that era, and where the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper operates (and I do mean operates) within that particular milieu. Here the horrific murderer makes use of technology the real Jack the Ripper never had available to him to take his madness and hideous agenda well beyond the mere butchering of prostitutes.

BellowsoftheBoneBox_FrontCover

You can purchase the book online from:

AMAZON
AMAZON UK
CREATESPACE
SMASHWORDS

I Want To Love Tim Hortons, but…

Today I have a very important post regarding a matter of great concern to me that was discussed in detail on Facebook. The threads have since fallen into the archives of the various people who followed it, but the concern is one that may force me to reconsider my patronage of what I believed to be a great franchise for writers like myself to hang out and enjoy an awesome cup of java.

Tim Hortons is a popular little place to get coffee, donuts, sandwiches, soup, and other awesome little snacks while you kick back and relax with the peeps (read: friends and colleagues). Many stores from this franchise dot the landscape of the Western New York area where I live, and one of them, located on Colvin Blvd. between Brighton Rd. and McConkey Dr., has always been my complete fav over the past two years. Its atmosphere is typically laid back and fun, and the employees working the night shift when I usually hung out there were not only courteous and attentive to the patrons, but showed a great deal of interest in our vocation, which was writing–or in some cases, artwork and photography as a corollary of the writing and publishing field. Coffee shops have long been popular with writers and artists of nearly every stripe, going all the way back to the Beatnik subculture of the 1950s. I like to think that authors like myself, and those artists who often work along with us to produce books, are the modern day successors of the great but quirky Beatniks of yesteryear.

One of the reasons coffee shops appeal to us so much is because of the specific type of ambiance and environment they provide, and the fact that they tend to attract both employees and patrons who are “hip” to the youth culture. Such individuals appreciate the sense of fun that our writing largely embodies. My genres of choice for writing tend to be horror, sci-fi, and pulp fiction, with a great appreciation for the comic book medium (even though, thus far, my published work all appears in prose). My work also has a lot of what I consider to be strong political and socio-cultural commentary, something the above genres and sub-genres of fiction writing have long specialized in providing. And the idea of entertaining your audience while simultaneously–and hopefully–enlightening them at the same time is the main purpose of our product. This is why we love our coffee shops to provide an atmosphere that is conducive to the spirit of our work when we visit. And this means, first and foremost, a sense of fun.

And here lies my concern. As many friends and colleagues are well aware, I have long recommended and preferred Tim Hortons [THs] to its main competitor in the area, Starbucks. THs has always had better service, better tasting coffee and latte, and considerably more reasonable prices. The THs on Colvin Blvd. (often called the McConkey branch) had become the THs of choice for me over the past two years, and certainly the only one to patronize regularly. This was not only due to what I mentioned above in terms of quality of product and reasonable prices to go with it compared to Starbucks, but also the fun and affable personalities of the late evening/overnight staff and their singular ability to get along well with writers and the rest of the hipster, youth-oriented crowd that love to frequent coffee shops.

Interacting with these employees gave me all the extra impetus to order multiple cups of java well into the “late” morning hours (not a contradiction in terms, as I’m sure you know I mean late at night into the morning when it’s still dark outside). It also gave me much encouragement to recommend not just THs, but this particular shop to my many fellow writers and related artists, whom I often encourage to visit and hang out with me in the Western New York area.

Well, about a week and a half ago, what I feel was a very bad business decision on the part of the store management was conducted. It resulted in what I believe to be a great injustice to two of the employees of the evening/overnight shift at the McConkey branch of THs. These two employees were well known for providing cordial service and often a shoulder of advice and great artistic suggestions to the hipster authors like myself who frequent the locale. I understand why the manager made the decision that she did, but I’m sorry, it was the wrong decision, and though I realize it was done for reasons intended to serve matters of decorum and professionalism, it was done without a thought as to the main customer demographic who tend to patronize the coffee shop.

Specifically, a short video displaying some patrons and reportedly the two employees in question (whom I must confess to not really recognizing under clever masks) performing a rendition of the popular and very fun Harlem Shake dance. It was embedded on Facebook and (for a time) YouTube, and to say the least, everyone I know who saw it totally loved it! It gave the location the important veneer of fun and youth-oriented atmosphere that attracts so many of us to that fine place. I knew my fellow writers would flock in droves to patronize such a cool and hip little coffee shop when they got the chance to visit me periodically, and it would be a great place to relax and hold our creative planning sessions for future book projects. I likewise recommended it to all fellow writers I know who live in the area.

The McConkey THs shop was simply a great place for writers to hold their story planning sessions. Its atmosphere was highly conducive to the type of fun and creativity that underlies our work, while sipping some great java that is priced reasonably enough that we could afford to be ordering additional cups for an entire planning session, which could last a few hours. We could also have some snacks there while conversing and sharing our story ideas with the employees, who had often shown great interest in our work. I knew they would always look forward to meeting my fellow young men and women who work the literary “salt mines” with me, and the reverse was most definitely the case.

Unfortunately, the manager, upon seeing the video on either Facebook or YouTube, reacted in a knee-jerk display of what I’m sure she legitimately considered “professionalism” and fired the two employees who were present when the short video was made, and who were said to have participated in displaying the mega-popular Harlem Shake. These two employees just happen to be great and attentive workers who showed much interest in the creative work that so many of the franchise’s patrons are involved with. They also got along very well with the predominantly youthful customers there, who are largely comprised of college students, poets, starving writers, goths, fans of the contemporary music scene, Harry Potterists (this way cool descriptive term for this group of fantasy fandom was coined by one of the two employees who was fired), and connoisseurs of books in the various fantasy sub-genres. In other words, they were hardly the type of patrons who would be even remotely offended by such a video being filmed on the premises. This fact was amply displayed by at least three patrons who took part in the fun. The video was quite brief, lasting no longer than 23 seconds, and could in no way be construed as a case of the staff neglecting their jobs. I can personally attest to these employees being very good at their jobs, and very responsive to the patrons there, including regularly telling us what was on the menu, always diligently giving us the reminder, “last call before the old stuff is thrown out to make way for baking the new stuff,” etc. I never felt they were in any way unprofessional. 

I was very upset upon learning that these two employees were let go for something that was in no way negative towards attracting the type of patronage that primarily enjoys the environment of Tim Hortons; quite the contrary, in fact! And the video in no way constituted a case of any employee of that particular shift neglecting their work to “goof around” instead. They would never have filmed such a video if there was a large number of customers to be served, and in fact, the small number of customers present at the time clearly encouraged the very festive video. This is no different than the emerging and growing trend of businesses that routinely have employees spontaneously engage in nerf missile fights or impromptu hoop-shooting tournaments to keep a “light” and festive atmosphere that is fun to participate in. This method of running a business is highly attractive to both youth-oriented customers and employees, and has never been shown to detract from a professional job being done by the staff.

Yes, the Harlem Shake has sexual connotations to it, but that is simply and largely an imitation of the very popular music videos made by mega-hip vocalist Katy Perry. She is immensely popular amongst the youth crowd, and the evidence of her very strong influence on the emergence of the now trendy Harlem Shake dance is clearly displayed in her music video California Gurls.

Ms. Perry and her act personifies the free and joyous expression of sexuality, as well as the unbridled–even manic–sense of fun and creativity that is so popular with the youth crowd of today. It would only come off as “inappropriate” or offensive to the most old-fashioned way of conservative thinking, and such individuals do not regularly patronize coffee shops like THs, unless it happens to be a store with a convenient drive-thru. But they do not tend to sit in the store and become part of the social scene that are an integral part of its atmosphere, and are indicative of what coffee shops tend to represent in American culture. And I always felt that THs was as “American” and contemporary as any other popular aspect of this culture (yanno, like apple pie, baseball, etc.).

So I cannot put into adequate words how disappointed I was by the manager’s knee-jerk reaction to this short little video. I understand that she could easily say the following things: “Sorry, I didn’t really want to do it, but it was store policy.” It was? If so, then the patrons knew nothing about such a policy, and as we are supposed to be the most important people in the store, it forces us to wonder what purpose such an incongruous rule was to serve. Not the interests of the customers, I must say. “Doing such a thing on work hours was unprofessional and a sign of neglect for their jobs.” That would be patently untrue, for all the reasons I mentioned above, as myself and my fellow patrons always got great service there, and we grew to like these employees on a personal level. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a coffee shop to my fellow writers, both within the area and visitors, if bad service was common there.

I called the store last week, spoke to the manager, expressed my concerns and that of my fellow writers over her decision, and issued a polite protest. She spoke to me very politely, took down my personal info and blog address, and courteously thanked me for the call when it ended. I did inform her that since I have been discussing having some of my fellow writers visiting with me soon, I could not in good conscience recommend the McConkey shop any longer, or even THs in general (since presumably, the policies would be the same in every shop of the franchise).

If an unjust reason like this would be used as an excuse to fire efficient and hard-working customers at a time when jobs are hard to come by during a bad recession, how could I be inclined to support this shop any longer.  One of the two employees, in fact, is married and has a family to raise. It’s not like what either of them did (to whatever extent their involvement was in the production of a short, fun video) was the equivalent of stealing, or failing to replace day-old food so a a new batch could be cooked up, or being rude to customers for no good reason, etc. These two employees never acted moody or in any way discourteous to the customers around me, no matter how hard a day they had either before or during the work day. Nothing about that video was something that would make the company look bad for the primary patrons there (again, quite the contrary!), and they were not neglecting the needs of the customers in any way.

I did let the manager know that my blog entry on this matter would go “live” today. And in that time (I spoke to her last Friday), she evidently did not reverse her decision. I do not know for certain if she put any thought into the matter, but it’s my personal opinion that she simply took a “what’s done, is done” attitude and put no major thought into it. And despite the fact that her overall intentions may have been inclined towards what she perceived as adhering to professionalism, it was not something conducive to the well-being of this particular establishment, it was not a decision that in any way made the main customer demographic happy (yet again, quite the contrary!), and resulted in two routinely courteous, amiable, and hard-working employees being rendered jobless during a nation-wide recession that this state has been suffering particularly bad from.

In case I may be accused of making up these accolades for the night staff, please go to this website, which gives location info and customer reviews for this particular Tim Hortons.

Please note the following, excerpted from the customer reviews that I linked to up above (which I copied and pasted in bold face):

Shaun R.

Shaun R. April 22, 2011

Go late night, the staff there is phenomenal. Very nice for a night crew, and I’ve had my fair share of bad night crew employees.

Leslie A.

Leslie A. September 28, 2012

Been to many Tim hortons and this is by far the best, the staff is so friendly…

Brianne G.

Brianne G. June 8, 2012

The staff here is so friendly and cheerful :)

Note the time stamp of these excerpts and you will see they were made from 2011 to Sept., 2012, which are recent enough. Nothing about those reviews suggests the work of a troll, as they were friendly with no sign of sarcasm. Note how one of them directly recommended the evening shift, and noted that it’s (or at least was) the best of all the THs in the area.

As such, I am planning on having a talk with THs corporate management. I encourage all of my followers on this blog, including all of my fellow writers, to leave a brief and polite message of protest to the manager of the store, who can be reached at this number during the daytime hours (figure Eastern timezone hours): (716) 833-0412. Let her know that this was far from a good reason to fire two employees whom the patrons liked and respected, and whose presence often encouraged me–and clearly other patrons–to specifically pick the McConkey store, and specifically during the evening-overnight hours.

Thank you to all for listening, including my fellow writers and the management of this store. And to the latter: Please reconsider your decision and do the right thing. A refusal to do the right thing out of nothing more than stubbornness or lack of concern for the situation (because it’s now “in the past”) is only going to lose this store a chunk of its primary patronage, possibly hurt the franchise’s good reputation among those of my vocation (who are a big part of its customer base), and result in protests further up the Tim Hortons hierarchical ladder. No one is calling you an evil monster or any names at all for that matter; we all make mistakes, and we often make mistakes with the best of intentions. But the only way to rectify things for people who may have been hurt by some of our mistakes is to admit the error and reverse the decision. As I see it, that shows a lot of character and responsibility, not a sign of weakness.

 

My Upcoming Novel — The Next Big Thing world blog tour

I have recently received the honor of being asked to participate in The Next Big Thing world blog book tour, where writers answer a few questions regarding their next upcoming novel. As I do indeed have a novel in progress now, I was pleased to accept fellow writer and WordPress blogger Alex Chase’s offer to participate (thanks, dude!), and without further ado, here are the questions (in bold) followed by my answers.

What is the working title of your book?

CENTURION: DARK ORIGIN.

 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Basically, from being an enthusiastic, lifelong fan of the super-hero sub-genre of science fiction. I’ve always wanted to write my own series of such characters due to my fascination with their archetypal relevance to the collective human consciousness (larger-than-life heroes have been a part of every world culture’s official folk legends, including the Bible), and it’s recently been shown that prose is as good a medium for super-heroes as their more traditional illustrated story format (i.e., ‘comic books’). The idea for this particular character, Centurion, goes all the way back to my high school years, and at long last a version of this character will see publication for consumption by the masses (read: the small but way cool segment of the masses who are fans of this awesome genre).

 

Another major idea incorporated into this novel and the sub-genre it entails is that of infusing a large degree of autobiographical elements into the mix, which acts as an interesting way of presenting your life story in a highly fictionalized context that conveys all that your life experiences have taught you in a (hopefully) entertaining manner. This idea goes all the way back to Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster’s creation of the seminal super-hero archetype for the modern era, Superman, but in a less overt manner.

 

What genre does your book fall under?

As noted above, CENTURION will fall clearly within the super-hero genre, which many categorize as a distinguished sub-genre of the general science fiction rubric.

 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I think Andrew Garfield of last year’s big screen version of The Amazing Spider-Man would make a really good onscreen portrayal of Benny Lotharo, Centurion’s civilian alter-ego. His only close friend, Gary, would be well-portrayed by Josh Peck, at least if he was a bit younger and put on some weight. As for Benny’s life-saving mentor, the tough but justice-minded soldier-turned-special agent Donovan Jakes, I would elect Mark Ruffalo for the role, as he did a fantastic job as Dr. Bruce Banner in last year’s other great super-hero big screen opus, Marvel’s The Avengers.

 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world where metahuman beings are suddenly appearing in large numbers, one particular troubled adolescent is the recipient of the gift of posthuman power and finds he has to struggle past his inner demons and emotional shortcomings to become a hero rather than a destructive menace to society.

 

Okay, that was sort of a long sentence, but thanks to the grammatical tool known as the comma, I still managed to get it down in a single sentence :-)

 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

This novel will be published by Metahuman Press, whom I am honored to work with.

 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft is still in the works but progressing nicely, and if it’s okay to take an educated guestimate, I see its completion over the next several months, with hopefully a late 2013 or early 2014 release date if all goes as planned.

 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Most likely gritty super-hero books that explore the flawed human side of heroes, such as pioneers in that field like Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with a more recent example being Mark Millar’s volumes of The Ultimates. I hesitate at this point to even imply that CENTURION should belong in such company, but their interpretation of the super-hero is the inspiration to where I will be taking the main character of this book.

 

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My own life experiences combined with my lifelong love and respect for an iconoclastic method of story-telling that breaks various boundaries and features an abundant use of socio-cultural archetypes that have a strong resonance on the collective psyche.

 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Benny Lotharo will be a deviation from the traditional adolescent super-hero paradigm that we have seen with the likes of Peter Parker, Dick Grayson, and the young Clark Kent portrayed in the Golden Age to Bronze Age Superboy mythos and as interpreted in the long-running Smallville TV series. Benny will not start out as an obviously good person who will quickly rise to the challenge of being a hero after receiving his powers. Like Peter Parker, he will be a greatly disliked social outcast amongst his peers, but unlike the type of character that Peter represented, Benny will carry deep emotional scars that will cause him to initially go down a dark path. 

 

But both he and the readers will gradually learn that he is a good person deep down who needs to work very hard to overcome his bitterness and anger at the world for its rejection of him to eventually become a hero. It’s true that Peter Parker initially eschewed the hero route to go into a self-serving show business career (a well-known point of the mythos that was curiously left out of last year’s big screen interpretation of the Spider-Man story, though it was fully incorporated into the Tobey Maguire version of a decade ago), but he never fully gave into his anger to seek vengeance on his peer tormentors; Peter simply became aloof and narcissistic, not out for blood. Benny will regrettably choose to go there in the beginning, and as a result, he will have a lot more redemption to work out before he can be called a hero.

 

I agree with some fan critics of modern comics that we do need traditional super-heroes of the naturally heroic kind that inspire us to become all that we can be–note Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America, who is my all-time fav super-hero; and the traditional version of Billy Batson, a.k.a, DC’s Captain Marvel, another fav of mine–but I think characters with serious emotional flaws who are easier for us average joes and janes to relate to can also inspire us,  by making it clear that no matter how much work it may take, those who are determined to overcome their negative traits and emotional baggage to become a much better person–even a hero–can indeed get there, with some help from those in their lives who care. I think both types of characters in the genre can be equally inspirational if handled the right way, which is why I like seriously flawed characters who have to struggle to become heroes in addition to those who are extremely noble and pure of heart from the onset.

 

Once again, I thank my colleague Alex Chase for asking me to participate in The Next Big Thing, and I thank all of my fellow writers in the genres I work within for the immense inspiration they have provided for me through the years!