Monthly Archives: November 2010
The town of New Milford, where I grew up, certainly had its share of ghost stories and urban legends. There was The Witches’ Circle—a spot in a huddle of five giant evergreens that was always cold, even in summer (imagine that!), and if you stood in it at midnight, a witch came out and told you how you were going to die. There was Lovers’ Leap, reportedly haunted by the spirits of suicidal Native Americans (or self-sacrificing Native Americans, depending on who was telling it), and they screamed every time the moon was full (or every time a bad boyfriend drove by, or some other variation).
And then there was Bank Street, which was at the heart of the town’s “Great Fire” on May 5, 1902. From the New York Times coverage of the event: “Almost without exception the buildings composing the business portion of the town are wooden structures and flying sparks and the rapidly spreading flames soon gave the town the appearance of a roaring furnace. Young’s Hotel was the first building to succumb to the flames, and the wind which was changing, quickly spread destruction in all directions. At 10 o’clock it was impossible to reach New Milford by telephone.” I would like to get up to the Public Library and do some research on the fire, as there doesn’t seem to be much written about it that’s immediately available.
Probably because of that, the town’s teens invented much of their own history, which went something like this: tons of people died! Some parts of the burned buildings were still intact so they incorporated them into the new buildings and they even used the scorched wood! And now those buildings are loaded with angry ghosts! The younger sister of the guy who sells popcorn at the Bank Street Theatre told me there’s a burned-out hotel room that they never demolished (?) on the top floor and the lights are always going out in there! My sister’s babysitter told me the books at the bookstore fly right off the shelves! At the music store the guitars play by themselves in the middle of the night, I swear, my brother’s girlfriend’s best friend swears by it!
Whether or not any of this is true? I have no idea. No one could have died, for all I know, and since the buildings were all wood (most of them, anyway), I find it hard to believe people would rebuild using burnt lumber (if there was even any left). But as kids, we took this as gospel. And the stories certainly were enough to send chills up the spines of every middle-school girl at a sleepover party.
Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World’s first public signing was held at Bank Street Coffee House, right in the heart of that purportedly-haunted district. Because of all the stories about the street that honestly had terrified me as a kid, I thought it’d be a perfect match!
Below, photos from the event. Enjoy!
I don’t usually get upset over the deaths of celebrities—I think the only one that’s ever driven me to a ceremonial toast was Roy Scheider.
Until September 29.
Stephen J. Cannell, who passed away at the age of 69 and with whom I share a birthday (February 5!), had a profound effect on my life. I was a child of the 70s, but a teenager in the 80s, and I watched every single Cannell show there was. In fact, I used to sit in front of the television with a tape recorder and record scenes, so that I could listen to them all week long and get my fix. I have dialogue in many scenes of The Greatest American Hero, Hunter, The A-Team, and Black Sheep Squadron (sometimes called Baa-Baa Black Sheep)—to this day—memorized. And yes, I still have all those cassettes.
Many people will tell you the stuff wasn’t that great. While, yes, we can all say that The A-team wasn’t realistic because of all those explosions and no one ever got hurt (it’s television, get over it), that Riptide had some of the worst acting ever (except for maybe the guy who played Boz), and that Hunter was really just Dirty Harry with a chick, what can’t be argued is that most of them were hits. They were hits because of the distinctive characters, and they were hits because of the conflict between those characters.
Have you forgotten Howlin’ Mad Murdock or Judge “Hardnose” Hardcastle and his former thug-sidekick Mark McCormick? Or that lovable geek Murray Bozinski? Or B.A. Baracus and Baretta? Probably not. That’s because Cannell’s characters were bigger than life and so outlandish that they appealed to the television audience’s broad variety of personalities.
Take, for example, Hannibal Smith and Howlin’ Mad Murdock.
If you take natural leadership, organization, high IQ, and the need to control with little else and mix them all together in one person, you get Hannibal Smith. So, if you identified with Hannibal Smith, it probably wasn’t because you saw yourself as a cigar-smoking, emotionless military strategist who quoted every famous General in the world. It was because you saw yourself as a natural leader. Or you saw yourself as highly organized. Or you saw yourself as a person who is always in control in any given situation.
Similarly, if you identified with Murdock, it probably wasn’t because you considered yourself insane. It was because you considered yourself playful. Or fun-loving. Or loud and garish. Or having a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude toward life.
With each character covering three or four personality types, put four of them together in one television show and you’ve pretty much covered everybody.
And yet the cores of these characters were pretty everyman. DeeDee McCall’s favorite meal was chicken marsala and she was obsessed with keeping her brand-new Dodge Daytona in mint condition; Brownshoe was an accountant with a nagging fiancé; Ralph was a high school English teacher who did everything he could to help his students strive for a better future than hot-wiring cars; Bill Maxwell was always profoundly moved by the death of a friend (which happened on more than a few occasions in The Greatest American Hero, as I recall). I never got the sense that I wasn’t like these people, or that I couldn’t grow up to be one of these people if I so chose.
There was also a give and take between these characters and among their peers; they related to each other in ways unique to them, and usually, their polar-opposite personalities caused conflict. Maxwell was career-oriented; Ralph was family-oriented. Sloppy Hunter was going to eat chili dogs in McCall’s car; neat-freak McCall was going to threaten death after she’d cleaned the upholstery. What happened in every episode—no matter which series you watched—was a clash that made cheesy dialogue suddenly witty, exciting, and colorful. The conflict was what made the good story. The conflict is what audiences thrived on, and this is evidenced in the other successful shows of the 1970s and 1980s: Starsky & Hutch, Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Simon & Simon, CHiPs, Emergency!, Adam 12, Moonlighting. Although none of these were Cannell (he did do some script work on Adam 12, however), all of these were hits because they mirrored his, as they worked on the same premise that he helped bring to the surface. Characters and conflict were key.
What’s sad is, television shows like those are mostly gone now. The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Monk had these qualities, but all are long off the air. House, Treme, and The Glades all have potential, but they’re missing something. There’s a new show coming out that appears to be about the conflict between a corporate head and an ecomaniac (and I think they’re married) that looks promising, but we’ll see.
So what was Cannell’s secret? I think it was in the way he viewed himself as a writer. Today, I hear many writers talk about how we are the masters of our universes, that we can manipulate our characters and make them do whatever we want. I don’t think Cannell thought of himself that way. In the show Renegade, for example, Cannell wrote himself in as the villain. He was, in essence, not acting as God, creator of worlds, but as Devil—the creator of conflict within those worlds. Perhaps, as writers—of television or otherwise—we’d be wise to shift our focus. Look at ourselves a little differently. It may just lead to more memorable characters, more memorable stories. I know I’m going to give it a shot.
Now to work on the issue of not enough jeeps flipping over anymore…
Peter D. Schwotzer, book reviewer for Famous Monsters of Filmland (yes, the one that’s been around since the 50s) has called Skeletons “spooky alchemy at its finest…I will be keeping my eyes open for more otherworldly terrors from a writer who gets ghost stories right.” For his full assessment, visit here:
It turns out the reviewer writes for Literary Mayhem and HorrorNews.net, so the review also appeared on those sites; in addition, Famous Monsters of Filmland publishes its review content to the Internet Movie Database. Kinda cool to see it on all my fave movie sites!
Even though it’s the same review, if you’re interested in checking it out on the other sites I mentioned you can do so here:
I just love a creepy Christmas (well, let’s face it, that’s when I get most of my horror entertainment for the year as gifts)! My short story “Bridging Christmas,” which served as my 2008 Christmas Card as a chapbook and took 3rd place in Toasted Cheese’s Dead of Winter Contest 2008, was selected for reprint in Static Movement’s Christmas Fears anthology.
HOWEVER, THE MOST EXCITING NEWS: Daniel Pearlman, a speculative fiction writer whom I’ve long admired, will also have a story featured in the same anthology. The piece he submitted hasn’t seen the light of day since 1985, and I don’t know what the title is, but I’m sure it’s going to be a great Stocking Stuffer. If you love spec-fic and haven’t gotten the chance to read any of his work, you’re missing out…you can check out his books here:
THE BEST-KNOWN MAN IN THE WORLD AND OTHER MISFITS: http://amzn.to/d13T9n
THE FINAL DREAM AND OTHER FICTIONS: http://amzn.to/9qgq6v
BLACK FLAMES: http://amzn.to/dbvXRm
Writer Jennee Thompson’s Cheap Therapy site has featured Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World.
“I enjoyed propping up my feet and reading these stories that are unlike most of the stories I’ve read,” she wrote.
To read the whole review, head on over to http://www.jenneethompson.com/2010/10/skeletons-in-swimmin-hole-by-kristi.html
MYSTERY WRITER STACY JUBA CALLS SKELETONS “TRULY IMAGINATIVE…MUST-READING FOR ADULT DISNEY PARK FANS”
Mystery writer Stacy Juba, author of the mystery novels Twenty-five Years Ago Today (cool book trailer on her site, but you can also watch it HERE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyaCXgRzwbA&feature=player_embedded)
And the forthcoming Sink or Swim has given Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole high marks, noting she “read this book in a day and a half, always eager for when I could return to it.”
Her favorites were “All This Furniture and Nowhere to Sit” and “Charlotte’s Family Tree.” I always find it interesting which ones people choose as their favorites.
To read her entire review—and please share it if you like!—visit here:
Many of us who participate in National Novel Writing Month seek balance between the expectations of writing, writing, writing—and all that other mundane stuff, like housework, laundry, the full-time gig, a social life, and eating. But I’ve found over the years that applying some tips I learned during NaNo are useful to me at other times of year—and can even be useful to non-writers just trying to balance their lives.
Here’s my top five:
~ Clean one thing a day. Meaning, vacuum one room, scrub one toilet, dust one shelf of knick-knacks. Doing just one small thing a day will either get you stoked to do more than that—or will just help you feel like your house is under control until you do have the time to clean. You’re less likely to feel overwhelmed.
~ Give yourself fifteen minutes a day to do whatever you want. Playing your fave Facebook game, calling an old friend, watching a couple of stupid things on YouTube, reading five pages of that book you keep meaning to get to. You’ll feel like you always have recreation in your life. And don’t say ‘I don’t have fifteen minutes.’ You do.
~ Stock up. Don’t buy one tube of toothpaste because you’re out. Go buy TWO. When you start the second one, you have PLENTY of time to remember to put it on your list before you get to the bottom of your second tube. In short: buy two of each product next time you run out. This saves so much stress I can’t believe it.
~ Safety pin your socks. I’m totally serious. If you safety pin each sock to its mate, you’ll never lose a sock again in the washer/dryer. When you take them off at night, re-safety pin them together before you put them in the hamper. I haven’t lost a sock in eight years since I started doing this. How does this aid your life? Well, you won’t run out of socks so often unless they get so warn out you have to throw them away. Saves time-saves money.
~ Limit your to-do list to five items. Don’t put too much on your to-do list. Five things is enough. What usually happens is you’ll finish all of them, feel accomplished, and then you’ll want to add just one more thing and finish that. It also keeps you from feeling overwhelmed and like your work never ends. Some days you might finish your five and feel so good you’ll be able to say, ‘the rest of this day is mine.’
When Skeletons first came out, I wanted to look at some creative places at which to sell it—I didn’t want to go just the bookstore route. My neighborhood wine shoppe, Brookfield Country Wine & Spirits, seemed like a good place to try it out.
Owner Louis Venezia did a terrific display with Halloween-themed products, and I’m happy to report that they’ve sold more copies than I would’ve expected…every time I stop in there, they need more books! Indeed…Spirits and Skeletons make a great fit!
Brookfield Country Wine & Spirits is located in the ShopRite Plaza at 143 Federal Road in Brookfield, Connecticut. Their staff is knowledgeable, their prices are very reasonable, and they have a huge selection of wines. I won’t buy my libations from anyplace else, these guys are so great. They also have daily wine tastings and other events, so you may want to check them out. Their website is http://www.brookfieldwine.com/
Sandie Lee, of the Imagination-Café Blog out of Canada, has heralded Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole—Tales from Haunted Disney World as “cleverly written and adds just enough creep factor to keep you flipping the pages.” Check out her full review at: