PREPARE FOR THE FALL



I will be the first one to admit that I am freezing my butt off right now. Granted it's because it just seems like it is still too early to turn on the furnace, but that's more me than anything else. The cooler weather is one sign that my favorite time of year is finally upon us. Although it is sometimes a stressful time, given the various demands on my time which arise once autumn is upon us, it is important to remember that just about all of these demands lead to things which are fun.

In order to help keep this happy feeling* I have composed the following list.

  • Halloween is right around the corner. This will be a reoccurring theme, but further items will pertain to specifics. This is just the joy that the anticipation of my favorite holiday brings.
  • The cool weather. Yeah, I just complained about being cold, but there is something wonderful about that crisp feeling on the wind.
  • Sleeping. Seriously, who doesn't love sleeping with the windows open when it's cool outside?
  • Snuggling. Cool weather + open windows = dog pile on the bed.
  • The end of that dreadful summer heat and humidity.
  • Fall colors. Sure, it's a little trite but that doesn't make it any less beautiful.
  • Crunching leaves underfoot.
  • Kicking a big pile of leaves into the air like a kid.
  • The smell of woodsmoke in the air. I'm never sure where it comes from, but it makes me smile.
  • Bonfires. I mean the huge ones where you feel the heat on your face from yards away. Not a whole lot of them in the near-the-city suburbs. That's part of what makes them special.
  • Apple cider. Especially warmed with a cinnamon stick..
  • The cider mill. The greasy bag of donuts you would never eat any other time of the year and fighting the bees for your cider. Fun stuff no child should miss.
  • Long sleeved shirts and flannel I can finally pull out of the closet.
  • Wearing hoodies in the house.
  • Feeling slightly less ridiculous curled up on the couch under my slanket*
  • Putting up Halloween decorations indoors. It's fun to see my old friends hanging around when I first get up on the morning.
  • Putting up Halloween decorations outside. This is a little more stressful, but the payoff is bigger because I get all the comments from everyone else.
  • Horror movies on TV. It's nice to take a break from the glut of usual crap and once again be happy that we pay for satellite.
  • Halloween stores. Even if I don't buy anything before Halloween, it's always fun to look.
  • Craft stores. Especially the ones that discount their Halloween merchandise in September.
  • Haunted houses. Getting a group together to go and be creeped out together.
  • Hay rides.
  • Haunted hay rides. Yes, there is a big difference.
  • Midnight showings of your favorite horror movies. Sure, I could stay home and watch the DVD, but it's fun to sit in the audience with a group of people who love the show as much as I do.
  • Halloween parties. Finally getting to reveal that costume I have been working on for months.
  • Preparing for Halloween parties. Not only getting the costume together, but also the prep work for the ones you are throwing.
  • The GLAHW Halloween party. Yes, specifically. Good fun for a good cause.
  • Pumpkins. Pumpkins are cool.
  • Mulled wine.
  • Boots. Sure, barefoot season is nice, but it feels nice to get back into a sturdy pair of boots.
  • NaNoWriMo. The National Novel Writing Month. 30 days. 50,000 words. It's a fun challenge. Even in those years I do not participate, it is nice to know that there are a bunch of crazy would be authors making the attempt.
  • Public appearance. An added benefit of belonging to a group of horror writers is that come Halloween, everyone wants us around. We're giving seminars in libraries, performing public readings, speaking at conventions, and selling merchandise at movie showings.
  • Hanging out after public appearances with some of the coolest people I know.
  • Really crappy B movies. Yes, it is great to be able to pick and choose between showings of your favorite movies. There is something even more fun about sitting down to a movie that you know is going to be just awful.
  • The return of network programming after the summer hiatus. Yeah, I know this is not the kind of thing someone is supposed to admit to, but it is something we each secretly look forward to.***/****
  • Costumes. The chance to play at being someone else, even if only for a night.
  • Ghost stories. They are just creepier in the fall.
  • Halloween candy. Suuuuuuure all of that is for the kids.
  • Seeing the little kids IN their Halloween costumes.
  • Halloween!

That's all for now. I am sure that I will return to this theme again before the snow falls. For now, hopefully this is enough.

*and in a desperate attempt to keep warm.

**Like a Snuggie, but mine is black with skulls on it.

***Even though the summer shows on basic cable are usually more entertaining than the regular network stuff.

****Note I did not mention the new television shows. That's too risky. Most of the ones that I end up liking will end up on the scrap heap after only a few episodes.

Busy, Busy, Busy



Isn't there some old curse about living in interesting times? I guess the same thing applies to full social calendars and not being bored. I love autumn. I love the Halloween season.

That being said, I'm getting exhausted just looking at everything planned for the next month.

I'm not even going to go into the fun stuff that I would like to do.* I am just going to list the things that I am likely to do and you can understand why I am so tired.

It starts this weekend with the bazaar at St. John's Armenian Orthodox Church. Plenty of good food, music, stuff to buy. I know that I will be there for at least part of the weekend.

I may also make an appearance at the Three Corpse Circus in Ann Arbor. The GLAHW will be there in the lobby, but it sounds as if they have more than enough people to staff the table. I might go just to check out the flicks.

The following week is the start of October and that's when the fun really starts.

4 October the GLAHW will be helping the Bedford Library get into the Halloween spirit with a number of short story readings.

That weekend, the Main Art Theater will be showing
Evil Dead II. I will be taking in one of the shows, either Friday or Saturday at midnight.

That weekend there is also an even called Ghoultide in Chelsea featuring unique, Halloween themed arts and crafts.

I will round the week out by attending the October meeting of the GLAHW Sunday afternoon, then meet up with the Motor City Haunt Club to tour the two big haunts in Pontiac: Erebus and Realm of Darkness.

The following week is relatively empty, but the weekend is packed. There is a special something that I am not going to mention, just in case The Mrs takes a gander at this. Saturday 13 Oct (how fitting) is World Zombie Day. There are a number of zombie related events planned. While I would like to participate in all of them, I will most like just be walking in Royal Oak.

Fast Forward to Thursday 18 October. The movie
Hellbound? had it's Detroit area premiere. It looks like an interesting documentary on people's beliefs about the afterlife. Look for me at the Uptown Birmingham 8.

Saturday the 20th you will be able to find me at the Flint Horror Con all day. There is also rumor that there will be a speaking gig involved.
Friday the 27th I and other members of the GLAHW will be at the Redford Theatre for a midnight viewing of
The Evil Dead. Yes, I know that's technically out of order, but what can you do?

The next night is the big one for the GLAHW. The Fifth Annual Monster Mash for Literacy Bash will be held at the Berkley VFW (Post 9222) on Coolidge Highway. Drinks, dancing, a costume contest, Penny Auction with tons of great prizes, it looks to be a blast.

30 October I will have my annual Devil's Night viewing of
The Crow. I don't care what they call it now, it will always be Devil's Night to me.

31 October -- Halloween!! Costumes, candy, kids, $5 pizza and wine or pumpkin flavored beer!

1 November -- Hit the Halloween store discount sales and sleep for a week!


*For that, visit the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers website and check out the most recent newsletter. The Tombkeeper Archives details all of the horror related craziness on deck.

A Digital Collection

I will admit it, I am a pack rat. No seriously. I recently cleaned out a filing cabinet for what was apparently the first time in decades. I found the hiring in information packet for a job I left over fifteen years ago as well as the deed to my first car (purchased in 1987).

I also went through the various cords, supplemental devices, and other random pieces of technology I had lying around. This included chargers for devices which I no longer possess. It included chargers for devices I could not even name. If you follow me on the Zuckerber Experiment, you’ve seen the picture of the spectrum of old mobile phones that I found as well.

Like I said, pack rat. I have a hard time getting rid of things.

This most definitely extends to the purchase of books. Part of the decluttering of the computer room included a book by book removal of each tome from the shelves in that room. I managed to whittle the collection from three book shelves to slightly more than two. Don’t be too impressed. Part of this involved moving the fiction titles down to the sixteen shelves which make up the basement library. On the plus side, some of the books did make it into the box of material to be donated (some of which went to a good home before making it to the library, always happy to help out a friend).

What you have to understand is that the remaining, roughly ten shelves of books represent only a portion of the non-fiction collection of the esteemed Dragon’s Roost Library. Specifically, all of the books relating to writing, all of the books relating to Criminology, Statistics, Forensic Science, and True Crime are on those shelves. Granted, many of these are textbooks, some left over from school, others read for fun, so the actual number of books is less than it would be if they were all paperbacks. This portion of the collection also includes the majority of the autographed books which I have collected. In some cases these are large, special edition reprints or omnibus editions which, like text books, are larger than the average bear, I mean book*

Also on these shelves are some of my treasured autographed books, the ones in which my friends and fellow members of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers appear. Finally, there is a copy of every book in which my work appears, along with a few newsletters and other things which I have written for.**

If you are following along with the footnotes*4, you will not that in footnote 3 I stated the “physical books.” I also jokingly refer to them as the analog books. This is to differentiate them from the digital books which I am either reading on one device or another or listening to. I am a big fan of digital media for reading. I used to listen to audiobooks only while driving, but have recently taken to listening to them while working on household projects as well.

I am not going to jump into the digital versus analog debate that I have covered numerous times in a number of different venues. I bought out a ton of books when Borders went out of business. I have a Sony digital reader. I have the Nook, Kindle, Kobe, Stanza, and X Comics apps for both my phone and iPad. I have an Audible account for the purchase of audio books and an Overdrive account to borrow them from the library.*5

Yes, I use all of these methods of reading. In fact, I often use them at the same time. Well, not at the same time. I’m not going to listen to one audio book while I am reading a paperback. You know what I mean. I will be listening to one book while cleaning the kitchen, then go outside with a paperback to read that one. I try to keep them separate by genre. For example, yesterday I listened to a suspense novel via audiobook, read a book on body language on my phone while waiting in line, and finished an urban fantasy novel stretched out on the couch.

I’ve never been one of those people who gets confused by multiple plot lines. In fact, I really don’t understand people who say that they can’t read multiple books at the same time. These same people do not have problems keeping the various story arcs of their favorite television shows straight in their minds.

Whatever.

None of that has anything to do with what I sat down to lament about, namely the pack rat problem.

I have a lot of books. I more than a few books that I have not read. By this I mean that I probably have enough books*6 that I do not need any new material for years and years. Now that I am acquiring things digitally, this is even more of a problem.

Problem? You ask. It seems that digital books would be the solution. You can get more and more and more and never worry about running out of room for them.

To which I would say “Yes, exactly.”

Part of the problem is the whole bargain idea. Authors will offer a book, usually an older title, for a deeply discounted (sometimes free) rate in order to entice people to purchase their newer material. In some cases the material is offered free with the hopes that the reader will then purchase the title in analog form or support the author’s work in some other way. Other times the author will give away books with the hope that people will then review them, recommend them to friends, or promote the book and/or the author in some fashion.

Far be it from me to pass up a free book.*7

This is where the problem kicks in. I do not want to be one of those people who takes advantage of these kind of promotions without earning them. There is an implied reciprocity and I am not living up to my end of the bargain.

This is not always the case. Sometimes a book will be so intriguing that I will move it to the top of the pile, the all important
To Read pile. There are times when a series looks so interesting that I can not help but purchase all of the books in it.*8 Most of the time, however, this does not happen.

Most of the time I shuffle them into the list of things that I plan on reading and there they sit. Often times they get pushed further and further down because of new, more intriguing books which I found on-line or which were recommended to me.

Sometimes they shuffle back up to the top in unexpected ways. A few months ago I was wondering what to read next. I mentioned a couple of the potential titles on Facebook and received an enthusiastic recommendation for one of the choices. I started reading it and found out it very enjoyable. In fact, I found it so enjoyable that I went out and purchased the titles in the series which I was missing (I had bought a number of them when the various Borders went out of business).*9

The reason behind this whole rant is that I usually concentrate only on horror novels during the month of October. I remembered that I had a number of books which I had downloaded to my Sony e-Reader of a horrific flavor. When I went to charge it I remembered that I had purchased a special code from a horror only publisher which allowed me to download any of the e-books they published in 2012 for free. I hadn’t used it yet.

Within a matter of minutes I had 25 new titles waiting for me, added to my
To Read pile.

Twenty-five.

Sigh.

Maybe I will get around to reviewing some of these.



*Because you were bound to ask, the collection includes but is not limited to Stephen King, Peter Straub, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Bradbury, Cherie Priest, and a second edition of
The Big Sleep autographed by Raymond Chandler and inscribed Ray Chandler, October 1943.

**Remember, this is only the Upstairs portion. The bulk of one of the basement walls contains the fiction books. The top shelf on the opposite walls contains some of my favorite books of all time including all of the non-signed Stephen King books (the majority of them in hardcover), my collections of J R R Tolkien and Arthur Conan Doyle, leather bound collections of Shakespeare, and a hardcover of
Emma Who Saved My Life by Wilton Barnhardt (which if you have not read, I encourage you to do so).***

***Sadly, this is not the complete list of my physical book collection. There is also a small set of shelves next to the bed including the five or so books I am actively reading at any given time, anything The Mrs might be reading on her side of the bed, and five or six coffee table sized books in the living room with topics ranging from wolves, to horror movies, to roller derby.

*4 And you really should be.

*5 Yes, I borrow books from the library. Granted, it’s not that often, as you will determine from the remainder of this little rant.

*6 Enough books. As if there is such a thing.

*7 I feel the need to add a comment about digital publishing and those who use it as a method of circumventing the standard publishing method. While I am all for helping new authors (since I am one myself), in general, I do not support using Amazon publishing, vanity presses, or other Print On Demand services as a way of getting published. Often those who are doing this are doing so because they fear rejection by actual publishers. The material which they then offer for low prices, or even for free, is often material which is substandard. Part of going the “old fashioned” publishing route is making sure the book that is getting to the readers is something that is worth reading. This means that it has be
edited, is free of mistakes, reads well, is entertaining, etc. Yes, some of this is subjective, but if you were to spend any great amount of time reading the stuff which is available through these sources your eyes would bleed.

The comparison I like to make is between network television, cable, and YouTube. I, personally, don’t watch a lot of network television. Most of the shows seem exactly the same to me. Those that are original tend to have their edges filed off until they are just like everything else. I find the material offered by basic cable to be more interesting. If you look at what was recently recorded on our TiVo you will find things like Copper, the new BBC-A offering. Yes, sometimes I will find something amazing on-line like Angel of Death or The Guild.

Similarly, I read some things put out by the major publishing houses. Yes, I am going to keep buying my Stephen King hardcovers. I do find myself leaning towards specialty houses the focus on horror, mystery, and speculative fiction when looking for something new to read. I very rarely delve into the worlds of the self-published. I’m sure there are some gems waiting to be found there, just like there are occasionally really funny videos on YouTube.

However, when I am looking for something to sink my teeth into, something with good production value, quality acting and directing, something that will entertain me for more than a few moments, that is not where I am going to turn first.
Especially not when I have that giant stack of things ready to be read.

*8 The onus of OCD.

*9 I also discovered that I had to visit the optometrist. I had been reading so many books on my iPad that I had not realized that my eyesight had deteriorated. Nothing serious, mind you. It is only a problem if I am reading actual physical books which do not allow me to change the font size. Now I have reading glasses which do that for me.

So, What's the Deal with All of the Zombie News Lately?



Now I am not one to promote promote hysteria or anything, but seriously, what is with all of the recent zombie stuff in the news.

I'm not, at the moment, referring to the people eating people because of bath salts thing. Wait, you know what? Let's address that for a second.

Bath salts are making people into zombies? Seriously? OK fine government. You just tell us anything and we will go right ahead and believe it. Fine, bath salts turn people into undead cannibals. I suppose enemas turn them into sparkly vampires.

Actually, that
would explain a lot.

Ahem.

I am not even referring to the resurgence of zombie material in the movies and television. I would have expected it to have died down by now, truth be told. Honestly, I think a large portion of the zombie's popularity at this moment in time happens to be a result of the backlash against sparkly vampires, emo vampires, and all of the other vamps (and to a lesser extent werewolves) being viewed as the perfect love interest. Sure, he's a bad boy, but he's gong to change for me.

Whatevs.

As far as the classic monsters are concerned, vamps and werewolves are the only ones which really work as potential love interests. No one wants to cozy up to the slimy gill-man from the Black Lagoon. A corpse reanimated by science? Eww, sorry Frankenstein's Monster. Hell, even the Bride that the good doctor created for you didn't want to plant smooches on your bolt neck.

Which is the same category our poor brain eating friends fall into. There are very few high school aged girls who are going to want to snuggle up to an animated corpse. It's hard to want to nibble on someones ear if there is the possibility that said ear is going to come off in your mouth.

Or that the owner of said ear might turn around and gnaw her face off.

Yeah, they may be bad boys, but no one is going to want to change them.

Which makes them perfect movie, TV, book, comic book, video game, you name it fodder. Zombies can be used to represent anything. In fact, they pretty much have been used to represent anything. The traditional Haitian voodoo zombie, which practically no one every thinks about when talking about zombies) represents a loos of control Cinematically it has been used as a metaphor for class struggle in a number of pre-Romero movies.

All of this changed with Night of the Living Dead. Zombies were no longer creatures created by magic and ruled by one person. Now they were mindless, soulless entities whose one drive was the consumption of living flesh.*

As such, they are essentially blanks** upon which we can project our own fears. Zombie films have addressed issues including but not limited to race, class inequality, mindless consumerism, the results of war (initially those returning from Viet Nam and later the various middle east conflicts), nuclear proliferation, the Soviet menace, fear of the body (becoming sick and no longer able to care for one self -- especially poignant in an aging population), loss of control, loss of loved ones, the self-centered nature of society, fear of death, a nihilistic concern for what lies beyond death, the list goes on and on.

As far as action films and video games are concerned, zombies are the perfect foils. If you need an enemy which can be eliminated in a number of gruesome manners, which seems to be never ending, and which will not engender guilt on the part of those watching the films or playing the video games, zombies are a good choice. They don't have souls so you can kill as many as you want. If you want to make a statement about people, animals, or whatever being treated as not having souls....well, look at the previous paragraph.

This blank template aspect has given rise to another phenomenon, one which people are already starting to complain about. Namely, the use of the zombie apocalypse as a means for disaster preparedness. The first instance I heard of was a few years ago when the Centers for Disease Control modeled their emergency preparedness awareness site along zombie lines. *** The zeds acted as a stand in for unchecked disease, natural disasters, or even technological failings. Since then most of the organizations which make up the alphabet soup: FBI, state and local governments, schools, and now the Office of Homeland Security has gotten in on the act.

My only concern is -- what if they know something we don't? What if they aren't getting us ready for the zombie uprising to make sure that we are ready for a natural disaster? What if they are getting ready for the zombie uprising because...





*Or perhaps just their brains, depending on which franchise you are following.

**Kind of like Bella.

***Include links here

Thank You

So, the good news is that everyone is all right.

This morning I was awakened by the shrill ringing of our house phone. For the record, I never answer the damn thing. Seriously, never. It is not going to be for me. People I know and want to speak to know this, have my mobile number, and will text me there. The home phone will either be for The Mrs or someone trying to sell me something (a product, a political candidate, a spiritual savior). It's best to let the machine handle it.

This morning, however, there was a sick kind of dread feeling that said I should answer it.

Instead I fumbled for it, missed the call, and fell off the bed on to the floor.

When it rang again I knew right away that it could not possibly be good news.

It was, in fact, On Star. They had The Mrs on the line. She had just been in an accident. She told me that she was ok, but that I needed to wake "all the way up" because she was probably going to have to go to the hospital to get checked out. She would call me back when she knew where she was going.

What she did not tell me was that she was hanging upside down when she made the call. Her car was wheels in the air and she was suspended by her seat belt.

Bonus points for wearing her seat belt.

There were three frustrating calls where I could hear the person on the other end of the line, but they could not hear me. In what can only be considered a stroke of brilliance* in my pre-caffeinated state, I texted her phone to let the person on the other end know this. In a few moments I received the following text:

This is Detroit EMS medics. Your wife was in a rollover on 75 n Nevada. She is fine has a cut on her arm but otherwise no major injuries. she is going to Detroit Receiving hospital at 75 n Mack. She is OK.

Then a few seconds later:

This is no joke sir

There followed a blur of activity on my part. Again, remembering that I had no coffee at this point, it is amazing that I was able actually get dressed and make it down to the hospital. In addition I was able to call The Mrs' work to let them know that she would not be in and why, pack a go bag, make sure the dogs were squared away, hide a key and arrange for someone to use it to let the dogs out in case we were gone all day, AND get dressed and make it down to the hospital.

The hospital in question is not one of the ones either of us has worked for. It is located near downtown Detroit and was the closest one to the accident site. I had a vague idea of where it was. Actually, that's not true, I knew exactly where it was. I did not know which of the many buildings which make up the Detroit Medical Center was the Receiving Hospital with the Emergency Center. I found it without making any wrong turns (which is something I rarely do, even when driving in my own neighborhood). Knowing there would be no way I would remember where I parked, I took a series of pictures as I walked from the car so I would know what to look for on the way back.**

The security people were very helpful and soon someone came out to the waiting room to let me know that they had just finished a CT and she was going from there to X-Ray. He assured me he would come and get me the moment she was done, probably about 45 minutes.

I snagged a Mountain Dew from the vending machine and sat down with my bag of goodies. I had brought a change of clothes for The Mrs, a rain jacket, her book so she wouldn't get bored, and my book so I wouldn't get bored. I sat back...

...and realized that I hadn't brought my reading glasses.***

It was actually a very short wait and I was treated to one of the Security Guards singing. His voice was amazing. The Mrs was indeed ok. She was in a neck brace and her left had was badly abraded. She insured me that she was fine. She was treated at the bed side by a number of wonderful medical professionals. Her neck was palpated, we were told that the head and neck CT were fine, and the human version of the cone of shame was removed. Shards of glass were removed from her hand and it was dressed. There was waiting, but there is always waiting. We engaged in conversations with the attending nurses, one of whom was a SANE nurse preparing to testify and another who was planning a trip to a haunted house.*4 We also played a rousing game of compare the Emergency Center.

"These gowns are so soft."

"The sheets are soft too."

"The curtain, I don't know...it looks like some of it is raised and shiny and other parts aren't but when you look at it different it is different."

This last was said while she flicked the curtain separating her bed from the next one over and after she had been given Vicodin for the pain in her hand.

I know that this reads like it was written by a self-centered schmuck, but at this point I need to stay focused. I still have some phone calls to make including the insurance company and the State Police to track down what happened to her vehicle. I am afraid if I focus more on The Mrs I will break down before I get a chance to. Also, I wanted to make sure I got down the amazing feeling of gratefulness and happiness I am feeling
before I start dealing with the bureaucracies.

Right now she is upstairs lying down with two dogs who have orders to not let her stand up without getting me first. I have never been happier to have her home.

I think I may have already summed it up on a recent post on the Zuckerberg Experiment:

Not that I'm actually egocentric enough to think that the whole world follows me, but I wanted to send a special thank you out to the universe.

Thank you that my wife is safe and relatively unharmed.

Thank you to all of the amazing strangers who helped us today, from the first responders, to the medical professionals, the lady from OnStar, and especially the strangers who stopped and stayed with her while she hung upside down in her vehicle.

Most of all thank you to all of you, our family and friends, who have sent prayers, good thoughts, and wishes for a speedy recovery.




* Or more likely an example of rote muscle memory.

** An old hiking trick. When in doubt, fall back on what you know works.

*** Damn. So close.

*4 Rousing chorus of "It's a Small World After All" anyone?

Kermit Would Not Approve A brief rant on sock puppetry.




There has been a lot of furor in the media recently about the use of sock puppets by well known authors. You can be excused if you missed, there was some kind of political thing going on in the States which diverted all media attention to what people were wearing.

In brief, a sock puppet is a false account created for use on a public site, usually a public forum. This includes bulletin boards, social media sites, and others but in the cases in question we are referring to public sites where material is reviewed. The big one is, of course, Amazon.

The debate started when a number of authors (among them some rather famous English mystery authors) admitted to using false accounts to promote their own material. In some cases these same accounts were used to leave negative reviews ("trash" would be a better word), material written by other authors viewed as the competition.

The
LA Times has done a good job of summarizing the happenings here: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-jc-the-furor-over-sock-puppet-amazon-book-reviews-20120904,0,5360238.story.

If you are like most people, your initial reaction is something along the lines of "Wow, that's a totally shitting thing to do. What kind of douche canoe would do that?"*

I'll answer that, but let me throw in a caveat first: I am in no way condoning this behavior. I find it loathsome (more on that in a minute) and have signed an on-line petition stating this and promising to never engage in this behavior.

That being said, I can almost understand it. Writing is a damn difficult way to make a living. The temptation to get a little extra publicity, that little extra nudge, must have been very tempting for the authors in question. Granted, some of them have gone WAAAAAAY over the top. Some of the reviews were so blatantly full of ass-kissery that were I using them to determine whether or not to purchase a title, I would have dismissed them.

More on that can be found at the following article at the Atlantic Wire
http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/09/sockpuppet-reviews-arent-just-unethicaltheyre-also-unconvincing/56499/.

This is the nature of on-line reviews. While it is exceptionally easy to do, most people do not take the time to review their purchases, hotel stays, service, what have you. This is why places like travel sites send you fifteen e-mails asking you to review your stay as soon as you get home. Who actually writes on-line reviews? Generally, it is the outliers. It is the people who absolutely loved something or who absolutely hated it. It's the people who were really moved to do so because of an exceptional experience.

This is why, when comparison shopping, one should take a close look at the three and four star reviews. Generally, these are the more lengthy ones anyway. They are the ones which give both the pros and cons.

"The vacuum's suction power is exceptional, however this drops when utilizing the crevice tool or other attachments."

The previous statement is a lot more helpful than "This is the best thing since a unicorn farted a rainbow." or "THIS EFFIN SUX."**

The exception to this, is the review of some type of entertainment. I am going to lump books in with movies, television, and music here, but I am primarily talking about books. The reason I do so is because these reviews are more subjective than those of other products. Sure, there is a degree of subjectivity to ones appreciation of a vacuum cleaner***, stove, or automobile. However, there are also specific factors which one can point to most items which allow it to be compared to other items of similar function. If you don't believe me, go check out anything on Consumer Reports or the Kelly Blue Book site.

Conversely, there will be people who enjoy some forms of entertainment despite their obvious flaws.*4 I personally love the occasional shoot 'em up movie, regardless of the degree or acting ability or lack of plot. In fact, there were many times that I would go see a film just because Gene Siskel hated it.

A great many people, at this point, will be asking the "Who Cares?" question. Why is this important? Aren't all reviews subjective anyway?

These are some of the questions raised by outspoken Indie author JA Konrath
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/writers-code-of-ethics.html and http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/09/enough-already.html.

Allow my friends at
Forbes to field that one: http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidvinjamuri/2012/09/12/do-consumer-reviews-have-a-future-why-amazons-sock-puppet-scandal-is-bigger-than-it-appears/.

My own take on the whole thing boils down to a couple of points:
People rely on the opinions of others when it comes to entertainment purchases.
This is even truer when it comes to on-line sales.
The negative affect of these reviews is compounded when it directly affects sales.
Engaging in anonymous doucebaggery is cowardly.

Confession time: I have only reviewed a handful of items on Amazon. Honestly, I try to avoid the on-line retail giant as much as possible. I still haven't gotten over their questionable publishing practices and I would rather my money went elsewhere. In fact, I did not even know that they had guidelines for reviews until I read about them in one of those articles I linked to.*5

That being said, I do enjoy reading and writing reviews. I am a compulsive card filler outer. If I can make my next stay at the hotel, next year's convention, next meal a little better, then I am more than willing to take the time to fill out the form. I am also a compulsive quiz taker on-line.

I do have a GoodReads account and I rely on the reviews of others. I am currently enjoying Kim Harrison's Hollows series because of a friend's recommendation.*6 Sometimes I even rely on the questionable recommendations of sales sites.*7 I suspect a lot of people do when it comes to entertainment purchases.

The usual reasons for this apply. People don't have the time to do their own comparison shopping unless it is a big ticket item. Blah blah blah. The oft sited reason that applies most to book purchases is that people are indeed purchasing them on-line. There is a difference between picking up a book in a book store and browsing a few pages on-line. This is where leaving false reviews becomes especially heinous. When someone picks up a book in a brick and mortar bookstore, they are relying on their own judgement to make the decision. Yes, this may be influenced by the opinions of others, what they heard on the radio, what the bookseller tells them, etc. However, a big chunk of the decision will be based on that person flipping through the book, sampling a bit here, a bit there.

While this option is available to a limited degree on sites like Amazon, it is far easier to read other people's reviews of the item. You actually have to click through the book a bit to get a feel for it yourself. The reviews, on the other hand, are right there at the bottom. On the gripping hand, you don't even have to read the reviews. You can just look at the handy dandy star rating system and go from there.

If those ratings have been artificially inflated or deflated by numerous (and we are not talking about one puppet per person here) fake reviews, the puppeteer is directly affecting sales.

But Michael, you say, aren't all reviews directly affecting sales?

Yes, that's why each person gets to voice their opinion.

Once.

Post fifty negative reviews on the competition is simply wrong. There is no way around that fact. Nothing you say will convince me otherwise. If someone reads something of mine and thinks that it sucks, I welcome the review. I would hope that it would be thorough enough that it will include WHY it sucked so I can examine that. Were the characters flat and unbelievable? Oh shit! They are right! I will have to work on that next time.

More importantly, everyone gets to voice their own opinion once
under their own name.

A friend of mine who runs a business from her own home recently received a barrage of negative reviews on her website. While they were all posted under different names, they were all sent from the same IP address. The culprit? You guessed it, the competition. I don't think that anyone has a problem viewing this is improper behavior. The possibility of legal action is being pursued.

Mr. Konrath brings up a number of points including blurbing another author's work, receiving free review copies, and negative reviews among them.

Free review copies sent to reviewers is a question that never made any sense to me. The debate goes like this: the reviewer got sent a copy of the book (album, movie, whatever) and therefore they can not be unbiased as they received something as payment.

Umm, no. They were sent their work. Their job (whether they get paid to do it or not) is to review books (albums, movies, I'm not going to keep writing this). If they don't get the material, there can be no reviews. The fact that they have the material to do their job does not influence how they feel about the material.

I honestly don't see how blurbing someone else's work enters into this discussion. By blurbing I mean when one author gives a little mini-review (what the kids used to call a shout out) to another author. It's usually only one or two lines, but it can include those full page deals in the front of the book that only people with OCD read. The idea is that if someone who is respected in the field approves of this material, that will influence the potential reader to purchase said material.

Usually it works. If I see the phrase "Stephen King calls MR.AUTHOR.GUY the crown prince of horror" I am going to pick that book up and give it a second look. I may not buy it, but I will give it more than a quick glance.

This is where Mr. Konrath has it backwards. Blurbing is the exact opposite of sock puppetry. When someone famous puts their name on a review, they are relying on their name to boost that book's sales. One person, one name, one review. Not fifty reviews from the same person using false names.

I have given positive reviews to books written by people I know. I placed my name next to them. I someone wants to do a little two click research, they will see how I know that individual. The important thing is, I do not blindly review the works of people I know. I have given positive reviews, but only after reading the material in question. You can tell because my reviews are thorough enough to list WHY I enjoyed the material.

And yes, they also include what I did not like about the material.

Which brings us to the "Amazon allows one star reviews" argument. No one said it is wrong to review something negatively IF you have actually read the material. Simply blasting the competition because you are insecure in your own ability as a writer is just sad.

I have given negative reviews. Sometimes it bothers me. This is especially true if it is an author I like. A recent example was for
The Fall the second book in the Strain series by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book. It had some very creative ideas, a new take on vampirism which was refreshing, and some interesting characters. Book two felt like book two in a trilogy. It was a place keeper. The more I read the more I felt like nothing would be resolved until the next book.

Sometimes it does not bother me to give negative reviews. A recent example was
The Night Enternal, the third book in the same series. I didn't finish it. I got to the middle of the book and realized I just didn't care anymore. I asked someone else who had read it*8 who survived at the end and moved on.

Now, see what I did there? I read the books. I credit the reviews to myself. In case anyone missed whose site they are on, I, Michael Cieslak, a real flesh and blood person, take responsibility for the reviews listed above.

No one is saying that you are not allowed to leave negative reviews. What we are saying is that if you are going to do so, have the cajones to put your real name next to them.




*Douche Canoe is currently one of my favorite expressions. It is impossible to say out loud without smiling. Go ahead, try it.

**Which one would think would be glowing praise for a review of a vacuum cleaner.

***Sorry, the last thing I looked at a lot of reviews for was a hand vac for cleaning up dog hair.

*4 For example,
Twilight of Fifty Shades of Gray.

*5 In case you were interested, the Amazon review guidelines can be found here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/community-help/customer-reviews-guidelines

*6 Thanks Mary!

*7 I tend to screw up
word that is not analog by purchasing unrelated items. "People who purchased Resident Evil also purchased Women's Flip Flops."

*8 Thanks MontiLee.

YOU WILL NOT SURVIVE



I'm sorry to be the one to break this to you, but should you find yourself in a horror movie you are toast. You've seen the movies. You may have even yelled at the screen. Odds are if you have seen the movie with a group you have said something along the lines of "I would never do that."

For starters, bullshit. Yes you would You would do it in a heartbeat and you would end up dead because of it, just like the cannon fodder, cardboard cutout character did.

Yes, even if you have had discussions about this. Even if you know The Rules from
Scream and Zombieland (more on that later). There are certain things that you should or should not do if you plan to survive. It is almost guaranteed that you will do everything you shouldn't and avoid doing everything you should. There are certain characteristics which you possess which predisposes you to die a horrible, grisly death. Honestly, the best you can hope for is that your death is gruesome enough to make the highlight real.

Before we get into specific actions, lets look at some generalities. Specifically, let's look at some physical attributes. As far as attractiveness goes, odds are you are one to two standard deviations from average. By this I mean you are fairly average looking yourself. On the old numerical scale, you probably fall somewhere between a three and an eight. Don't get mad at me, get mad at the math. You can't dispute this. It is how averages work. Most people are average. Look it up, that is kind of what it means. If you want to argue this, I suggest you e-mail your junior high algebra teacher.

Why is this important? Well look at who survives the typical horror movie. Is it the super hot chick with the amazing rack or the studly jock with the six pack abs? Hell no! Your average movie goers don't look like that (they are
AVERAGE, remember?). In fact, the average movie goers, sitting there with office trash can sized tubs of pop corn and a sodas as big as their heads not only fail to identify with these super-hotties, they hate them. They remind them that instead of sitting on their ever growing posteriors in an air conditioned theater they could be out mountain biking or hiking or some other damn out door activity that the wealthy and attractive have time to do. When the hotties in question start having sex (and they will throw down and don't worry, we will be addressing those Scream Rules in a second, keep your pants on -- pun intended), the audience not only dislikes them, they want them to die.

Let's repeat that.

The audience wants the pretty people to die.

How do movie producers make money? By giving the audience what (they think) it wants.

Bottom line: if you are really attractive in real life you are gone by reel one.
So what if you are not a Victoria's Secret/Ambercrombie and Fitch model? What if you are, as I noted above, actually average?

If you are average or lower, sucks to be you. The audience does not care about average people. It certainly doesn't care enough for them to want you to live. More than one standard deviation towards the ugo end of the spectrum? You might not even die on screen. They might just find your homely ass stuffed in a closet or a locker or something, only to be discovered when you fall out and boo scare* the crap out of everyone.

Good news? If you are
two standard deviations on the ugly and unwanted side of average you just may survive the movie. Bad news? You are going to survive because you are the horribly disfigured villain. Still sucks to be you.

Who survives the movie? The person who survives (if there are any) is the slightly above average one. Say, a seven, seven and a half. Most of the time it is going to be a chick. Sorry dudes. Penis quite frequently equates to death.

The problem with this survivor theory is that she is a
movie seven and a half. You know what I mean. In a teen drama she is the one who everyone picks on until she lets her hair down and gets contacts for the prom and then you realize how smoking hot she is. Movie numbers right shift the bell curve. So a movie seven? Totally out of your league in real life.

Don't be too upset, she will probably be the first to bite it in the sequel.**

So we touched on the gender issue (dick and death both start with the same letter). What about race?

This is a tricky one. For a long time, being a minority meant you were the fist to meet the killer.*3 If you spend any time watching reruns of
At The Improv you will know that the "Why does the black man get killed first?" joke was almost as popular in the 80s as ripping on airline food.

By the way, if you are watching reruns of
At The Improv, for the sake of all that is holy and good get a life!

This became such an issue that there was a bit of backlash. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough of a backlash to guarantee the survival of minorities, it just meant you were going to die second. If there is more than one survivor, there is a better than even chance that it will be a non-caucasian. Odds are, survivor two will be a hot Asian.

On the plus side, horror movies are primarily populated by whites, so if you are of the darker tones, you might not find yourself in the movie at all. However, if you do?

Yeah, sucks to be you.

"But Michael," I hear you whine. "I know all the rules!"

Congratulations on getting your man.

Pasted Graphic

Not these Rules

No, no you mean these rules:
http://www.hark.com/clips/tfdsmhgrrm-rules-of-surviving-a-horror-movie

So what about the things you can control? Specifically, what about your actions?

There are a bunch of rules for surviving horror movies. A quick search of "surviving a horror movie" or "how to survive a horror movie" will produce a near infinite number of lists which vary in seriousness. I will not be making a list of my own *4, but I will address some of the issues which those lists raise.

Many of these have real world applications. Sure, there are warnings against buying property built on ancient Indian burial mounds, that used to house Satanic rituals or witch burnings.*5 These may not seem to apply in the really, real world. However, if someone is selling you a house for a ridiculously low price (even in this market), perhaps you should ask why.

The most widely known survival rules are from the
Scream franchise and the movie Zombieland. Most of Columbus' rules parlay into the real world quite nicely. You should be doing cardio to stay fit. You should limber up before exerting yourself. Confined spaces, particularly bathrooms, are good places to get jumped. Make sure you know your exit routes. You should wear your seatbelt, but make sure you check the back seat when you get into the car.*6

This is where we run into our first harsh dose of reality. Notice I left off some of the more zombie-centric items from Columbus' list. I didn't put on Rule #2 -- The Double-Tap, for example. All of the items I listed in the previous paragraph are things which, while on a list of ways to survive the zombie apocalypse*7, they are also things which you should be doing right now. Things that don't require flesh eating ghouls as prompts. Things which will actually improve your actual life.

Things like exercise.

Things which you aren't doing.

So you're going to wait until there is no more room in Hell before you start your exercise regime. Until then you are just going to curl up in front of the TV with a pint of Chunky Monkey? This is not a good survival plan for real life, much less for surviving a horror movie should you find yourself in one.

About that double-tap, what are planning on tapping with? Everyone knows the first rule of Zed removal...

...say it with me now...

...YOU'VE GOT TO SHOOT THEM IN THE HEAD!

Admit it, you've yelled it at the screen. In fact, this one I will give you. You have seen enough zombie/monster/ghost/alien/whatever movies that you do have one up on the characters on the screen. You know what to do. Even if that thing that is shambling after you isn't a "classic Romero zombie,"*8 you would be surprised at the number of things which can be stopped if you pop the top of their brain cans. People in most horror movies (with a few notable exceptions) act as if they live in a world where there are no horror movies. They're first reaction to the creeping flesh eaters is to ask "Dude, are you ok?"

In all honesty, it will probably be your reaction too, but before I get sidetracked, a note on firearms.

If you have never held one, you are screwed. Seriously. If you don't already own a firearm when dead arise, you are not going to be able to get one easily. I know, part of your plan is to raid the gun shop, maybe even hold out there until help arrives. Have you ever been to a gun shop? They make great places of fortification. This means you are going to have a Hell of a time getting in. Don't think that you are the only one who has had this idea either. Everyone and their grandmother thinks they will be running down to Ol' Mike's Ammo and Bait Shop. Unless you are the first one there you are SOL. I can almost guarantee you won't be the first one there.

Ol' Mike will.

The guy that owns the place. They guy that has been dealing firearms for forty years, who probably served in at least one sanctioned military activity. The guy who knows how to use every weapon in the building and is probably pretty intent on holding on to them.

Ol' Mike has been selling firearms during peace time and making a tidy profit. Don't expect him to go all soft and start handing out free Glocks once the dead arise.

The same goes for every other sporting goods place. There are rednecks who practically live at Gander Mountain. Odds are they will be living there before you make the hour long trip there.

You'll be lucky to find a BB gun at Toys R Us.*9

This is just as well. Despite what the movies have taught us, you can not simply pick up a riffle and start making head shots at 1000 yards. It's hard enough hitting those little paper targets when they are not moving and you have been practicing for years. Add to this the fact that you don't know the first thing about cleaning and maintaining a weapon and you have an unfortunate equation in which your gun (at best) jams at a crucial moment or (slightly worse) blows up in your hand.

So, you don't have a gun. Well what do you have? A few years ago the Centers for Disease Control released a zombie preparedness plan*10. They claim it was an amusing way to make sure that people were prepared for natural disasters, citing that preparing for a zombie uprising would make one just as prepared for an extended power outage, blizzard, tornado, what have you.*11 Their plan calls for having three days worth of food which will not spoil, a supply of clean drinking water, sleeping rolls, batteries, a flashlight, emergency radio...

Yeah, you don't have any of that stuff either, do you? Unless you are a camper, hiker, or other type of outdoor enthusiast, you won't have any of that stuff. Even if you are, you probably don't have it ready in a bug out bag.

Again, you're not even ready for real life, how are you going to survive the horror?

Perhaps you are going to fall back on Randy's Rules*12. I prefer to address these rather than all of the Rules which arise in the
Scream series as they actually pertain only to survival. As the sequels progressed, the additional rules became derivative and often pertained to thematic aspects of movies rather than how to survive them.

Randy's Rules, and many of the rules for horror movie survival, are based on one of two essential truths: Sin must be punished. The exception to this is that the sin of not adhering to social convention is not only tolerable, it is preferred.

The Sin Factor is pretty straight forward. If you do something morally wrong, you will be punished for it. Torment a kid? You can bet he'll come back with a knife. Ignore the kids swimming? You can bet SPOILER ALERT*13. You get the point, no pun intended.

It doesn't have to be one of the big Sins with a capital S either. Drinking, drugs, sex? Death, death, spectacular topless death. Pretty much anything your mom wouldn't want you doing gets punished. Oh, in case you didn't get it yet, punished means dead.

The exceptions are the polite things like saying "I'll be right back." In order to survive a horror movie you are just supposed to get up and walk out of the room. Don't let anyone know if they should pause the episode of
Ghost Facers you TiVoed. Don't ask if they want anything from the fridge. Just be a total douche and go take a giant dump.

Similarly, don't go looking for your friend who may or may not have already gotten axed in the face. That's a sure way to get your own dental cleavage. Don't split up to search, that would be the socially acceptable brave thing to do.

Once again, these are not things that you are going to do naturally. Hopefully your mom raised you better than that. You do say "Excuse me for a moment, I'll be right back." You actually care about your family and friends and in the face of an indestructible horror, you will actually go out of your way to make sure they survive too.

And the Sin Factor? You can't be persuaded out of a one night stand with the cute chick you met at the bar and she might be a for real psychopath, or have a biker boyfriend, or be riddled with disease, or all of the above. The fact this might make some other psychopath want to kill you? Dude, you just hit on her and you know she isn't in to you.

The problem with Randy's Rules is that unlike Columbus' they really don't apply to the real world. In order to want to follow them, you have to first understand that you are IN a horror movie. By the time you realize you are in a horror movie, it will probably be too late.

So you see, there is nothing you can do that will enable you to survive. It's out of your hands. Nothing you can to will help.*15

Not even reading this article.


*Boo scare is a term I use for the stupid thing that happens that makes you jump even when you know it's coming. Other terms include jump scare and bang scare. Primary example include, but are in no way limited to, the body that falls out on to a screaming girl, the cat the jumps out (often distracting the character from the fact that the killer/ghost/xenomorph is right behind him or her), and the image in the mirror/reflective glass/behind the door/around the corner that is not actually threatening but is just startling.

**Oh yes, there will be a sequel. Fucking Hollywood.

*3 This is not an honor. Think about it for a second.

*4 Here. That's a topic for a different blog.

*5 Or hosted John Denver Christmas specials.

*6 Seriously people. How are you NOT checking the back seat BEFORE getting into the car. There could be a knife wielding psychopath, a crazed homeless person, an ex-girlfriend, or someone who is all three just waiting back there for you! And for Cthulhu's sake get automatic locks for your car. It's 20freakin12. There is no reason for you to be slashed to death because you are fumbling to get your key into the lock. You should have your damn keys ready anyway! Set them up so you can identify your house key in the dark so you can get inside and away from whatever is chasing you, be it natural or supernatural.

*7 Which, all kidding aside, IS coming.

*8 Do NOT get me started on zombie classification. That's at least one blog post if not three.

*9 And then you'll probably shoot your eye out.

*10
http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm

*11 We know better. Sure, they have since declared that there is no zombie outbreak, but are you going to believe that?

*12 Or Meeks' Law if you prefer.

*13 That his mom will come back and exact revenge. Just in case you haven't seen the original Friday the 13th.*14

*14 The fact that movie was referenced in the 13th footnote was not planned, but is totally awesome.

*15 Except maybe sleep with the director.*16

*16 Even then you will probably die in the sequel.*17

*17 See the second footnote.