Everybody Out of the (Dead)Pool!

I went to see a movie called Deadpool last night. Maybe you’ve heard about it. Despite the title, it’s not about callous assholes predicting celebrity deaths. Imagine, instead, if Bugs Bunny were an insane, mass-murdering, sex-obsessed superhero who knows he’s in a movie and breaks the fourth wall constantly. That’s pretty much it. Plus it’s a Marvel movie that seems intent on bridging multiple studio continuities. And why the hell not? It’s not like they’re paying all that much attention to their own continuities these days. Once you start recasting and throwing around time-travel plots willy-nilly, it all comes crashing down sooner or later.

Ryan Reynolds returns as Deadpool. Yes, returns. You may remember the character from the poorly received X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or the better liked proof-of-concept short that helped sell the studio suits on the idea of producing an R-rated Marvel movie again. The last one attempted was the universally ignored Punisher: War Zone which, because of its pitch-black sense of humour and excessive violence, has since become a cult film in certain circles. Well, Patton Oswalt seems to really like it at any rate.

Being that this was a premiere, we were instructed not to text, Twitter, Facebook or blog about the movie before its actual release date. To which I say: fuck that. What’s the point of freebie advanced screenings if not to generate buzz? Somebody failed their Marketing 101 course.

But this wasn’t the only silly draconian rule we were subjected to.

“No phones!” we were instructed as we entered. “Phones off!”

As the last holdout on Earth who refuses to get a phone, cell or smart, even I thought this was ridiculous. Concerns about piracy abound (though the joys of watching a movie shot from a phone escape me) and phones during a movie are obnoxious, but it was an hour before the screening. Of course people are going to pass the time diddling around with their phones. These demands were flatly ignored, everybody got their texting and browsing done and, for the first screening I can remember in a long time, I didn’t see anybody’s devices on once the film began.

Had I the option, I might have thrown a couple of my own rules into the mix. Ones like: DO NOT READ THE CREDITS ALOUD.

It’s a funny, irreverent movie. So there were funny, irreverent credits at the start. The guy behind me read EVERY – SINGLE – ONE out loud, punctuating each with a hearty laugh. Dude, the audience was full of comic-book geeks. They can all read. We’re happy you’re a big boy now who knows his A-B-Cs, but kindly shut the fuck up.

Here’s another rule for people who apparently don’t know how cinema works: STAY UNTIL THE END.

“Do these people really think there’s not going to be anything after the end credits?” I said as I saw the first hundred people streaming out of the theatre the moment the movie “ended.”

I’ve never understood people who lack the patience to sit through credits – especially in this day and age when half the genre movies include some extra scene at the very end. It’s like they’re at a sporting event and want to beat the departing crowds if the game is a foregone conclusion. I have seen people walk out of a film in the last few minutes BEFORE the credits roll because, I guess, there’s nothing but boring resolution stuff left. INCIDENTAL NOTE:  I remember seeing people do that during Aliens in 1986 when the survivors made it back to the ship. Because, hey, they made it off the planet. It’s all over, right? Idiots.

Anyway, yes, if you see it, there are more jokes during the credits. There are more jokes after the credits. Stick around, or do you really need to feed the parking metre that bad?

Oh right. A review. I guess you want some early-preview critical assessment.

It was okay. I was amused. I laughed a few times. And I wasn’t too creeped out by the cosplayers in the audience. None of them tried to shoot or stab me, which was nice. You can’t always expect that level of civility at the movies these days.

Because of the R-rated content, there wasn’t much studio support for this film. It almost didn’t get made, and when it did, it was for a relatively low budget. By relatively low, I mean for a Hollywood-studio superhero movie. That still means it was shot for more money than the ten most expensive Canadian films ever made combined. So, uh, yeah – go support this tiny little indie film that makes funny at the expense of its own inexpensiveness, because we need to support more ultraviolent mainstream blockbusters.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say.

THE END

Wait! I have one more joke to tell!

What do you call Batman when he skips church? Christian Bale!

See, you would have missed that hunk of gold if you’d already left. Aren’t you so glad you stuck around to the bitter (real) end? Lesson learned.

Second Balloon

The first time “Carrion Luggage” saw print was back in 2003 in Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic. It was a short story I wrote concerning a voodoo curse making its way through airport security. As such, it was already a nostalgic look back at the kinder, gentler days of airport security when there was still some small measure of dignity in flying. As early as 2003, the act was already turning into a body-scanning, cavity-searching, beverage-free zone of bodily violations by grabby rubber-gloved “agents” with less training than your average grocery store checkout bagger and worse judgement than a mall cop chasing after teenagers for harassing an anchor-store Santa on Black Friday.

Despite a certain dated quality, the story sold again in 2014 to Black Chaos: Tales of the Zombie. My thinking there was that the announced anthology would be inundated by contemporary flesh-eating zombie stories and that there would be no love for the ironically underexploited voodoo zombies of old. I was quite right and they agreed to the reprint. Additional publishing details and links can be had on the Anthologies page.

As those of you who have bought and/or read my recent collection of Red Baron articles will know, I’m doing a slow roll-out of some of my material, new and old, for Amazon Kindle. Publishing “Carrion Luggage” as an eBook is my second official trial balloon. It’s now available online for $0.99 – or whatever weird one-cent incremental variation Amazon seems to randomly apply to these things. Carrion Luggage_small

When I say “second trial balloon,” that’s a bit of a lie. There have been others, but this is only the second publicly announced one. I’ve been busy learning all sorts of new and mind-expanding things about digital publishing as I gear up for bigger and loftier projects. The handful of fiction I’ll be making available in the coming month(s) is my way of cautiously learning the ropes as I weigh the dubious returns and glacial pace of traditional publishing versus the dubious returns and fast pace of do-it-yourself eBook publishing. Investing a buck per story would be a fairly token but much appreciated way for you to show me my time is not being spent in vain. Think of me as a sort of literary busker – except I’m not getting in your way in the subway and assaulting your ears with terrible covers of Simon and Garfunkel songs on my Casio keyboard.

Related to all things publishing, this article about the often terrible terms writers are expected to sign their name to is worth a look for those interested. I mostly include the link here as a means of bookmarking it for myself. At some point down the line, I should create a blog post about the most egregious things I’ve seen recently in various terms and conditions clauses – often from little- to no-pay small presses that are already asking writers to bend over for free.

The web has levelled the publishing playing field in recent years. It’s the wild west out there, and just like the wild west, few people panning for gold are finding any nuggets. I am (along with everybody else) trying to figure out what the new business model is going forward. The more I learn, the more I’m concerned there is no more business model. Or worse, there is a business model, but it’s broken and dead – just like the prospector’s horse that keeled over and died rather than carry all that mining equipment up the mountain one more time.

Inevitable

In one of the most profound tick overs since the date change on January 1st, 2000 and when an extra digit had to be added to the official U.S. debt clock, the websites, abevigoda.com and isabevigodadead.com, have had to change their status. After standing vigil for venerable character actor Abe Vigoda for years, watching over his current state of being so diligently, he has transitioned from a living state to a dead state. He died today at age 94.

But, like Baron von Munchausen, that was only one of his many deaths. Abe Vigoda was first declared dead by People Magazine in 1982. It was just a misprint, but it got the ball rolling. Since then, he has been declared dead more often than any other celebrity. Rumours of his demise, and shock that he was, in fact, still alive, abounded for decades until it became a widespread joke.avevigodaisdead

Vigoda was in on the joke. Although his film and television rolls diminished over the years, he made regular appearances on comedy shows to poke fun at the fact that, yes, he was alive and well, and yes, he was really really old.

I knew about his pending (real) death a few days ago, when I happened to read an update to his Wikipedia page. I was having one of my “How’s Abe doing?” moments and had to check. A member of his family had made a statement on Friday that he was dying – and dying soon.

It’s hard not to feel a certain morbid excitement about the event. I grew up watching Barney Miller, and The Godfather is among my favourite films. Abe Vigoda, with his alarmingly regular pronouncements of death, seemed to thumb his nose at mortality. He was the crown jewel of deadpools everywhere.

I’m fascinated by celebrity deaths – how so many people who know them, but don’t actually know them, come to mourn the loss of these famous strangers. Hell, I wrote an entire book on the subject (coming out later this year, announcement pending) and it’s not out of my system yet. I’ll be writing about this topic again, I know it. Because no matter how many beloved actors and musicians and politicians and artists and writers and reality-show narcissists snuff it, there are always legions more clinging to life.

In related news, Zsa Zsa Gabor is still alive.

References

Just when I was announcing my Red Baron book on Amazon, I got hit by some other social media news I needed to link to. Rather than confuse the issue, I waited until today to add them to the blog. In brief:

My interview about “When the Trains Run on Time,” my story for Playground of Lost Toys, is up on Colleen Anderson’s blog. She made a nice introduction which enlightened me to the fact that my submission had an uphill battle getting into the book. She’s not normally drawn to time-travel stories, so it’s always good to know you won somebody over despite working against their tastes.

Rich Johnston created a spike in traffic by referring to Longshot Comics as one of his favourite comics of all time on Bleeding Cool. Rich and I endured the Eisner Awards together in San Diego over twenty years ago, and his occasional Longshot reference keeps drawing attention back to my venerable dot-comic. Yes, I need to get it back in print. I know, I know. I beat myself up about it regularly.

I’ll also take this moment to mention that last year Steve Requin posted an old comic page of his on Requin Roll. It referenced my Couch Potatoes strip from Angry Comics. That’s me and Dave making a cameo in panel two. I’ve had this bookmarked for a long time, and this is as good a time as any to point it out.

Now that those links are preserved for posterity (or until they become broken), I’m getting back to work.

Wet Feet

In an effort to better understand the eBook biz, I’ve gone and published my first book to Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s a test-balloon collection of all the articles I wrote about the Red Baron back in 1995 when I was doing a lot of research for a feature film I had in development. I’ll refrain from name-dropping the movie stars who were involved because, like so many projects that spend years in development, it never happened. All that really materialized in the end were these articles I pitched to a few magazines to make some extra coin. Selling options on screenplays isn’t much of a living. Neither is writing magazine articles, but I got a lot of mileage from that cover article for Aviation History. It was reprinted multiple times and paid a hell of a lot better than any comparably sized fiction story I’ve written for actual books. It seems facts and figures are worth more to the marketplace than imagination and story structure.

An Ace for the AgesThe plan is to roll out more short material in eBook form in the coming months in order to make some worthwhile out-of-print and brand-new stories and essays available for token sums of money. Right now, you can get “The Red Baron: An Ace for the Ages,” “The Baron’s Most Famous Mount,” “Dogs of War,” and “Laying a Legend to Rest: The Death of the Red Baron” on Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle software, all for mere $0.99.

I’ll be netting a whopping $0.35 U.S. per unit. With the Canadian dollar where it is these days, if I sell just a few copies, I should be able to pay off my house and maybe buy an entire Canadian province with the spare change. Not a good province, but a decent-sized crappy one like Saskatchewan (flat and boring) or Quebec (broken and French).

So if you have any interest in a 22-page overview of some German dude who’s been dead for nearly a century (or, pitched better, the most enigmatic and famous air ace of World War I – or any other war for that matter) shell out a buck and show me that all this fiddly HTML formatting I’ve been doing was worth the effort.

Episode VII

I know you’ve all be waiting for me to weigh in with an opinion about the new reboot of a long-standing film series that dates all the way back to the ‘70s. Indeed, it’s had a tremendously long, storied run, lighting up the box office for decades, and remains one of those pop-culture touchstones everybody knows and loves (either overtly or secretly, with some justifiable measure of both pride and shame). Beyond the original beloved trilogy, some of the later entries in the series have been panned with good reason. There was, however, a marked improvement in the last one to come out before the current offering, giving people hope that there might be life left in the old warhorse yet. So the question stands: now that we have a brand new blockbuster that closely mirrors the story and structure of the heralded original film, is it any good? Is it worth moving forward with another two, three or dozen sequels? Can the next generation of characters carry the brand name? Is the magic back?

I am, of course, talking about Creed, the seventh and latest part of the Rocky saga.

What else could I possibly be discussing?

Oh.

That.

Yeah, whatever, I saw that one too. Meh. If you want another opinion, pro or con, the internet is full of them. I don’t care enough to add to the noise.

So I spent bits of December rewatching every single Rocky film. Here’s a spoiler-laden recap of the series. If you haven’t seen any Rocky movies, you might want to give them a look before some idiot blogger blows any surprises for you.

Rocky (1976, Dir: John Avildsen)

The classic best-picture-winning original is grungy in a way that only exists in 1970s cinema. Small-time bum boxer (and leg-breaker for a loan shark) Rocky Balboa leads a pretty shitty life on the poverty-stricken streets of Philadelphia. His fondest wish is for his lowlife buddy, Paulie, to hook him up with Adrian, Paulie’s nerdy sister. But then, because this is America, land of opportunity, the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed, decides to give a random local boxer a shot at the title in honour of the coming bicentennial celebrations. Rocky gets picked, sight unseen, out of a directory of Philly fighters. What’s meant to be an easy victory for the champ turns into a real fight when Rocky seizes this opportunity to redeem himself after squandering his best years on sleazy matches and petty criminality. He pairs up with ancient boxing-gym owner Mickey and trains hard for the bout. Reality eventually catches up with Rocky, and he confides in Adrian that he knows he can’t win against the champ. His strategy switches to a heroic effort to last all fifteen rounds against the punishing blows of Apollo. Rocky goes the distance and loses to a split decision, knowing what he’s won – self-respect and Adrian’s love – is more important than the championship.

Rocky II (1979, Dir. Sylvester Stallone)

The oft-neglected Rocky II is actually a strong entry in the series that (sort of) remakes the original and changes the ending. Immediately following the events of the first fight, demands for a rematch abound, even though Rocky wants to get out of boxing. He marries Adrian, has a son with her, and lives the high life on the cash and endorsement deals that spring from his sudden fame. But it doesn’t last. The money quickly runs out because Rocky is a dummy who buys a lot of shit he doesn’t need. The endorsements fizzle because Rocky can’t read the cue cards for a simple TV commercial. Accepting the new challenge promises to put Rocky back in the black, but there’s more trouble when Adrian falls into a coma after a difficult birth. With the Apollo rematch pending, Rocky neglects his training to be by her side. When she finally wakes up and instructs him to win, Rocky returns to his training with renewed vigour. The climactic fight is every bit as brutal as the last one, ending in the final round when both men fall to the canvas. Rocky narrowly manages to get to his feet first, winning the title by default.

Rocky II is a unique sequel in that it perfectly understands where Rocky (having gone from the 1976 Best Picture Oscar to viable franchise) stands in the current pop culture lexicon. Everything that was well received in the original is back in spades, with much more emphasis on invigorating training sequences and the epic boxing match (both of which were surprisingly short-changed in the original). There are also many self-aware one-liners and asides that are funny and nicely underplayed – my favourite being when one reporter asks Rocky if he’s suffered any brain damage. “Not that I can see,” Rocky mumbles with genuine sincerity.

Rocky III (1982, Dir: Sylvester Stallone)

After Mickey sets him up with series of relatively easy victories to defend his new title, Rocky faces a real challenge in the form of young, hungry and mean fighter, Clubber Lang (Mr. T exploding into the public consciousness in his film debut). Mickey tries to protect him from this fierce new opponent but Rocky insists on fighting him in the name of pride. Rocky’s training for the match proves to be a bust when he spends too much time soaking up public adulation and the trappings of fame and fortune. Mickey falls ill the night of the fight after a locker room altercation with Lang, leaving Rocky shaken before entering the ring. Suffering a quick and decisive defeat, Rocky returns backstage only to watch his mentor slip away and die before help can arrive.

Utterly depressed, Rocky wallows in failure until Apollo Creed comes back into his life and offers to train him for a rematch against the villainous Lang. After relocating to the mean streets of L.A., and receiving a head-clearing pep talk from Adrian, Rocky regains his spirit as a hungry street fighter once again and returns to the ring long enough to satisfyingly beat the tar out of Clubber Lang and win back the title.

Following the grittiness of the 70s films, the first Rocky of the 80s suddenly looks very slick. The training and fighting scenes hit a new level of indulgence that goes past satisfying the audience and into pandering territory. But, undeniably, it works. Rocky III stands among the most crowd-pleasing of the franchise, although it’s impossible to ignore that the first hints of genuine stupidity (beyond Rocky’s own dumb-guy persona) are beginning to slip into the series. The scene with Hulk Hogan as Thunderlips is very silly and suffers greatly from its reluctance to admit professional wrestling is all pretend stagecraft – probably for fear of disillusioning many in the gullible target audience.

The original plan was to end the series as a solid trilogy. But this is Hollywood. And a sure moneymaker must always be squeezed dry.

Rocky IV (1985, Dir: Sylvester Stallone)

Russian superman, Ivan Drago, is the latest, greatest athlete created by evil cheating commie science technology. An exhibition match is arranged in Las Vegas to show off his superior boxing ability. Rocky is the proposed adversary, but Apollo Creed is the one to accept the initial challenge and promptly gets beaten to death in the ring. Rocky blames himself for not throwing in the towel and ending the fight earlier. After the obligatory weepy funeral scene, Rocky agrees to fight the Russian champ in Moscow, despite Adrian’s worried insistence, “You can’t win!”

After lots and lots of training footage (Drago in a high-tech gym-lab, Rocky at a remote woodsy cabin for contrast) the two meet in the ring. The dirty reds boo Rocky until the plucky American keeps coming at their inhuman steroid monster despite being knocked down numerous times. Winning over the crowd, Rocky also wins the fight, showing Drago that the “A” in “U.S.A.” is for asskicking. His final warm-hearted cold-war speech assures the Russian people that it’s better to watch two guys killing each other in the ring than twenty million in a nuclear war.

Rocky IV is the shortest Rocky film, which is nice, because it’s also the worst. Utterly stupid from start to finish, it’s still an entertaining piece of Reagan-era propaganda. I’d be much more forgiving of it if it weren’t for Paulie’s robot girlfriend. No, seriously, the disgusting meat-packer slob Paulie gets a robot girlfriend in this one. As if the rest of the film weren’t enough of a terrible comic strip.

Rocky V (1990, Dir: John Avildsen)

Much maligned, Rocky V is panned as the worst of the series. It isn’t. Rocky IV is far worse. Rocky V, weak as it is, benefits enormously from its attempt to return the series to some semblance of reality. After Paulie gives power of attorney to a crooked accountant during their trip to Russia (damn you, Paulie!) the Balboas come back to find their hard-won riches stripped away. With debt and back-taxes piling up, they have to sell the mansion and all their stuff and return to a humble existence in the old neighbourhood of shitsville Philly. After years of head shots, Rocky has suffered too much brain trauma to get certified to fight anymore. He quits boxing and runs Mickey’s old gym as his new career.

Rocky tries to rebuild his relationship with his disappointed son, but gets distracted by an ambitious young fighter named Tommy Gunn who is determined to get Rocky to train him. Under Rocky’s tutelage, Gunn quickly rises in the ranks. A title shot is in the cards, but an obnoxious boxing promotor (obviously based on Don King) seduces Gunn away from Rocky and fast-tracks him to the championship. Although Rocky wishes him well, Gunn remains unhappy when reporters continue to think of him as Rocky’s puppet who only defeated a “paper champ” – the one who inherited the title after Rocky retired undefeated.

At the promotor’s insistence, Tommy Gunn returns to Rocky’s neighbourhood to challenge the aging boxer to a fight. After punching out Paulie, Gunn gets the fight he wants – but it’s a street fight, with no money to be had for the pugilists or the promoter. The two men go at each other bare knuckles, with all the cheap shots you might expect outside of a regulation ring with no referee. Although Rocky ends up flat on the pavement at one point, a hallucination of Mickey encouraging him to go one more round gets him back on his feet long enough to beat Tommy into submission. For good measure, Rocky punches out the corrupt promotor, despite threats of a lawsuit. Rocky, after all, has no money left to be sued for.

Even Stallone hates this film, but the ire is misplaced. It’s nowhere near the quality of the original trilogy, but it’s not a particularly bad movie if you care about the characters and want to keep following their misadventures. More importantly, it’s a first step back towards the Rocky series that had heart, was grounded, and had its brain-damaged head screwed on straight. It was the promise of better things to come.

Rocky Balboa (2006, Dir: Sylvester Stallone)

For years, everyone thought Rocky V was the final nail in the Rocky coffin. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Sylvester Stallone announced he was working on yet another Rocky movie (this one without a numeral in the title). Rocky Balboa went on to be the most surprising film of 2006. It had every right to be absolutely terrible and turned out to be shockingly good.

Since the previous film, Rocky’s finances have recovered enough for him to buy a small restaurant and name it “Adrian’s” after his late wife. Yes, Adrian has since died of cancer. The fact that Talia Shire doesn’t return as Adrian, the love-interest and heart of the Rocky series, should have been a fatal blow to the franchise. Instead it becomes the film’s greatest strength. Her presence is felt more here than it was in any of the previous few films. Rocky is lost without her, and that fact elevates the story rather than diminishes it. Paulie, of course, persists like the cockroach he is, and remains, for better or worse, in Rocky’s corner.

Running his restaurant day to day, Rocky is living in the past, sharing his old boxing stories with disinterested customers and coming to realize that the world has passed him by. Meanwhile, ESPN runs a computer simulation of how a boxing match between the current champ, Mason Dixon, and Rocky in his prime might turn out. When the computer suggests Rocky would win by knock-out, Dixon’s ego is bruised, and there’s talk of a high-profile exhibition bout. Rocky decides he wants to do it, despite being way over the hill. Training for the fight provides the excuse for him to reconcile with his son, who joins Team Rocky.

What’s supposed to be a just-for-shits-and-giggles bit of theatre with an old man dancing around the ring with a young man gets serious when Dixon discovers Rocky is fighting for real. The body blows are hard, and while the fight never turns into a brutal, bloody grudge match like those of Rocky’s youth, it’s genuine enough for the new champ to learn a thing or two from the old champ. After going the distance one last time, Rocky leaves the ring to the ovation of the crowd, not even waiting for the academic split decision that declares Dixon the winner. One final, sentimental visit to Adrian’s grave and Rocky literally fades away into the background, promising the end of the Rocky series once and for all. Except it wasn’t.

Creed (2015, Dir: Ryan Coogler)

Adonis is another young, hungry fighter, skipping off to box in Mexico, away from prying eyes. Unlike Rocky, he’s smart and affluent, with a high-paying desk job and a new promotion. Despite having every advantage, there’s something in him that wants to fight – needs to fight. Dissatisfied with his life, he quits and moves to Philadelphia, seeking out the legendary boxer, Rocky Balboa.

Looking up Rocky at his restaurant, Adrian’s, Adonis reveals that he’s Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, and prevails on Rocky’s sentimentality for family and friends. At this point, all the supporting Rocky characters are dead, and even the son has moved away to Vancouver. A combination of loneliness and residual guilt over Apollo’s death leads Rocky to latch on to Adonis and agree to train him.

After his mainstream boxing debut, word gets out that Adonis is Apollo’s son, and suddenly all eyes are focused on Rocky’s new protégé. The current champ, facing forced retirement due to a pending jail term, seeks to set up a last spectacle fight and chooses Adonis as his opponent. The catch is, Adonis is expected to take his father’s name and call himself “Creed” for publicity purposes. At first, Adonis refuses, fixated on making his own name for himself. Eventually, however, he accepts the name as his rightful legacy and agrees to the terms.

While Adonis faces the fight of his life, Rocky faces a fight for his life. Diagnosed with cancer, Rocky refuses treatment after seeing how little good it did for Adrian. Adonis won’t let Rocky off the hook so easily, and encourages him to undergo chemotherapy with the words, “If I fight, you fight.” Rocky continues to train the young fighter, even through debilitating nausea and weakness. With the training and the cancer treatment complete, Rocky and Adonis fly overseas for the big fight. Adonis proves himself in the ring, going the distance just like Rocky once did and, again like his mentor, losing to a split decision. Having won his respect, the champ tells Adonis that he’s the future of their boxing division, and the promise of a Creed II is sealed by the critical acclaim and box office returns.

The Rocky series has been around for most of my life. I saw every one of them in the theatre during their original run (except Rocky V because, like everyone else, I’d stopped giving a shit when that one came out). Criticism that they’re schmaltzy and sentimental is well taken, but they’re proficiently engineered to push all the right buttons and consistently work, even at their lowest ebb. The last two restored my faith in the series going forward even though, each time over the last twenty-five years, I’ve been surprised somebody bothered to make yet another one.

Rocky has been the crown jewel of Stallone’s career. He’s made a lot of very bad movies and he knows it. Despite his need to stretch Rocky thin and relentlessly revisit the character, he’s done so with a degree of respect and tenderness that’s kept the movies from becoming a joke (even though Rocky has been the subject of many jokes ever since the days it won an Oscar over better pictures like Network and Taxi Driver). After desperately wanting him to leave it alone following the note-perfect closing shot of Rocky Balboa, I find myself actively hoping the series will continue in the wake of the success of Creed. It’s not that Creed is fantastic or surprising cinema. But it’s solid cinema – mainstream but low-key, exciting but not overplayed. It’s the sort of honest storytelling that’s willing to show its handsome new leading man, fit and trim, sexy and confident, get the nervous shits before a big fight. I like that. I want to see more of that. It rings truer than, for example, jedi warriors using magic and laser swords to save the universe in a less-engaging, less-grounded, unchallenging and safe Part Seven of a series that refuses to die.

Besides, let’s face it, at this point in history, there are more good Rocky movies than there are good Star Wars movies. That’s a fact. Deal with it.

The poster for Rocky 38 from Airplane II: The Sequel. It was a throwaway joke back in 1982, when there were only three Rocky films. Now it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Expect James Bond and Star Wars to get there first, though.

The poster for Rocky 38 from Airplane II: The Sequel. It was a throwaway joke back in 1982, when there were only three Rocky films. Now it doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Expect James Bond and Star Wars to get there first, though.

Reading Material

Last week I got hit by a triple load of releases. One anthology appearance had been scheduled for months, but the other two caught me by surprise. I knew they were coming, but I didn’t know when.

As mentioned here before, my story “When the Trains Run on Time” is in Playground of Lost Toys. Edited by Colleen Anderson and Ursula Pflug, this is book eleven of Exile’s anthology series. I was already in book ten, New Canadian Noir, earlier this year, so that’s a double-header from Exile Editions.

Speaking of my criminal enterprises, we have Betty Fedora Issue Two: Kickass Women in Crime Fiction, edited by Kristen Valentine of (you guessed it) Betty Fedora. “Heads Will Roll” is the lead story. As such, you can read most of it for free by checking out the Kindle preview on Amazon. But to make it all the way to the punchline, you’ll have to shell out for a copy. An e-copy of the whole book will run you a buck.

betty_fedora_2If you want to read some of my genre work and you’re too cheap to shell out as little as 99 cents, “Black Ink” is available for free from Out of the Gutter Online. It’s the shortest of the three new stories and probably the nastiest, if that’s what turns your thumbscrews.

More stories are on the way, as listed on eyestrain’s anthologies page. At this late day, I figure I’m probably done for 2015. But starting almost immediately in 2016, “The Last Seven Miles and Home” has just been slated to appear in Bumps in the Road from Black Bed Sheet Books. “Bayonet Baby” gets another kick at the can in Illuminati at My Door in March. And there’s another major piece I’m not allowed to mention yet, but I look forward to adding that intriguing cover to the website once I get the go-ahead.

Since I’m on a roll with new material, I figured it was time to link to some of my old material on the articles page. These two entries were essays I wrote semi-anonymously online, but they’re still drawing eyes from time to time, so I thought I should finally cop to being the author.

“Tourist Fakes: The Quest” is an epic saga I wrote about a trip to the Mediterranean five years ago and my attempts to be willingly conned by scam artists. Is a con still a con if it’s consensual? Decide for yourself as you peruse parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

“Whatever Happened to Mr. Pink” dates back twenty-two years and is still chugging along. Written before the web was a thing, when most people (myself included) didn’t even have their own email address, this film-nerd dissection of a controversial scene in a (then) fairly obscure cult movie by some writer/director newbie has been cut and pasted by others many times, cropping up on numerous websites once that web thing finally got popular and took off.

That does it for now. Sometime in the near future, I promise to write something entertaining on the blog that isn’t shameless self-promotion.

Launch Padding

The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories (with one of my stories in the first volume) was released this month and is now available from Amazon, and other fine bookstores that don’t subject anyone to the goddamn Amazon Prime program, like Barnes and Noble and The Book Depository.

Now with the official seal of approval from the Conan Doyle estate.

Now with the official seal of approval from the Conan Doyle estate.

The launch party was held October 1, at London’s Heron Tower. Even before the big day, it was the best seller in Amazon’s Sherlock Holmes category. Upon release, physical copies sold out on the site in the first three hours. Since then, they’ve had new copies come in and sell out at regular intervals. The supply and demand has yet to stabilize, so grab your copies, hardcover, paperback or ebook, where and when you can.

Philip K. Jones. Sherlock-Holmes pastiche expert, is the first reviewer to go on record, calling it the finest volume of Sherlockian fiction he’s ever read — and he’s only made it through volume one of three so far. This from a guy who keeps an online database about Holmes and Watson and reads EVERYTHING to do with the consulting detective and his pet doctor.

A number of related articles have been saved in my browser for too long now, and I should get around to linking to them…

The Melbourne Review of Books did a nice interview with fellow contributing author, Wendy C. Fries.

The Sherlock Holmes Society of India interviewed publisher, Steve Emecz, prior to release. At the launch, he announced plans for an edition of the anthology in India. Other countries may follow.

Finally, there’s a lengthy interview of editor, David Marcum by The Baker Street Babes. Scroll to the end, and you’ll see a specific mention of me, my story — “The Song of the Mudlark” — and future plans for new tales of Wiggins and The Irregulars down the road.

Now that we’re past all that, the next anthology I’m in has gone to press. Playground of Lost Toys will be out at the beginning of December with my new story, “When the Trains Run on Time.” Here’s the final cover:playgroundoflosttoys

Three more anthology appearances are already in the queue after that. Plus some other major news that’s just crossed my desk. It’s too early to announce anything or show you cover art, but I have an explosion of material coming out through to the end of the year and into 2016.

As for now… Back to my editing and rereading chores. Groan.

The Unspeakable

There’s no nice way to say this. Corpses crap themselves, and steps must be taken. You don’t want a group of mourners standing around a casket with a “Who farted?” expression on their faces, only to realize, after exchanging accusatory glances, that the perpetrator was the one in the box. That’s not a final memory anybody wants of mom or dad or aunt Josephine.

Funeral science has, through much trial and error no doubt, developed the A.V. plug. It’s a plastic device that’s half screw, half butt plug, and is used to stop up one or more holes that might develop some unfortunate leakage before a corpse is safely planted in the ground. I know about these sorts of things because I’m morbid, but I’m not an expert. So when the A.V. plug came up as a recent topic of discussion, I felt compelled to ask around.

No, not these.

No, not these.

ACTUAL TRANSCRIPT OF THE SORT OF CONVERSATION THAT HAPPENS IN MY HOUSE:

Me (in all seriousness): Do you know what the A.V. stands for in A.V. plug?

Her: There’s two holes down there.

Me: Ah. I was hoping it stood for something classy like “alimentary viscera.”

Her: I’m eating.

Me (shutting up): Right.

Recent research (and by “research” I mean “roaming around the dark corners of the web looking for sick and twisted things”) led me to my new favourite website, The Order of the Good Death. It’s run by Los Angeles funeral director Caitlin Doughty, who is the author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory and creator of the hilarious video series, Ask a Mortician.

I’ve long been aware of how the monopoly of modern funeral rites is ruining death for everyone, and it’s nice to see groups advocating alternatives a mere fifty-two years since Jessica Mitford wrote The American Way of Death, exposing the gouging that goes on in the industry.

I know this sort of thing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it warms my cold jaded heart that the web provides such valuable information resources about the nitty-gritty that goes on behind the scenes whenever somebody’s loved one (or unloved one) snuffs it. Including what gets shoved up their ass.

I highly recommend you take time out from watching funny YouTube cat videos to watch some of Caitlin’s funny YouTube death videos. Spoiler alert: there’s a funny cat in some of them.

Caitlin Doughty and friend.

Caitlin Doughty and friend.

Pardon the shameless plug. Plug? Get it? Haw!

There are only three days left in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Kickstarter campaign. All goals have been met, but if you want to get your copies ahead of the rest of the world, this is your last chance.