Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Back in the mid-90's, after a ten-year career as an author of Southern horror (eight years as a professional) I left the genre and returned to a normal, nine-to-five job, working for the Man. This was mostly due to the implosion of the horror publishing market and Zebra Books' abrupt decision to totally shut down their horror line, which was my bread and butter. Truthfully, for a long time I had no desire to return to writing and thought that my days as a horror author were over and done with. Then, in the summer of 2006, due to the urging of alot of friends and fans, I decided to give it another try. So, after a long hiatus of ten years, I once again took up the mantle of Southern horror writer and planned my big comeback.
A comeback that, unfortunately, nearly two and half years later, folks are still waiting for.
Hey, take it from me... I'm all fired up and ready to go. My fans are ready, too. They are still waiting for that first big Ron Kelly limited edition to be released to much fanfare and critical success (or so I hope!) But I'm afraid their patience may be wearing a mite thin. And, to tell the truth, so is mine.
The main reason for the long wait is the nature of the publishing business itself. From the time a manuscript is accepted by a publisher until the day of its release can sometimes span a year or more... and that's just as a mass market paperback. When it comes to the small press (or independent press, as some call it), the wait can be even longer. Setbacks and unforseen obstacles -- such as personal tragedy and the current state of the economy -- can change the momentum of a project in the works and slow it down to a snail's pace. This is what has happened to several of my comeback projects. Instead of running and leaping onto your bookshelf like a bullfrog on PCP, they are slowly making their way there like a turtle slogging through molasses in wintertime.
True, I've had a couple of things come out in 2008: namely Flesh Welder from Croatoan Publishing and Tanglewood from Cemetery Dance Publications. Fortunately, both were total sell-outs and well recieved critically. But it's the big books that alot of the fans are licking their lips over. The hardcovers with the glossy covers and steller artwork (by master horror artist Alex McVey, I might add). But, unfortunately, these are also the projects that have hit snags in the publishing timeline, due to one setback or another.
One of these projects is the re-release of my Irish werewolf novel, Undertaker's Moon, which was published by Zebra back in 1991 under the generic title Moon of the Werewolf. Shortly after I decided to try my hand at writing again, I made a deal with now defunct Nocturne Press for a very classy limited edition, with lots of cool werewolf illustrations and extras. After that publisher went out of business, UM moved on to Croatoan Publishing next. Then, when Croatoan hit some unforseen snags, the project ended up at its present home at Full Moon Press as Number 1 in the Essential Ronald Kelly Collection, due out in February of this year. I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that the third time is a charm. Much longer and this ol' werewolf's fangs may drop out and its hair turn gray from old age.
Two other projects -- both at Cemetery Dance -- are a long time coming... but they are coming... soon. The two books (a new novel and a short story collection) are both unannounced. But they are at the printer now and on the very verge of release. So, in that respect, there is some much appreciated sunshine gleaming over the horizon.
Also, a brand new project at a third publisher, is fast approaching completion. This, too, is presently "top secret", but will be announced sometime in early-January. Keep an eye on the horror message boards, this blogspot, and www.ronaldkelly.com for the big news.
Take it from me, folks, I'm just as anxious for the Ron Kelly Comeback Train to start chugging its way down the tracks. True, it's been derailed several times... in 2007, as well as 2008. But hopefully it'll gather steam and come roaring into your horror-reading station throughout the year of 2009.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How Aluminum Are Thy Branches?: Holiday Memories from the 60's
As the Kelly family prepared for Christmas this year, decorating the house, putting up three of our customary seven Christmas trees (that whole crisis with Ryan's leg threw us off a bit!), I couldn't help but think of those magical holiday seasons of my childhood. Those first impressionable years of my life -- 1959 thru 1968 mostly -- seemed to be the most memorable. The wonder of Christmas in all its glory was fresh and untainted back then... especially to a wide-eyed child of my generation.
Perhaps one of the most lasting memories I have of those Christmas seasons I spent with my mother, father, and little brother in our rental house in West Nashville back in the mid-60's was our incredible aluminum Christmas tree. While many families remained true to the traditional pine or blue spruce, we ventured forward into the future! I remember the day Daddy brought home that skinny white box and opened it up. Inside was a segmented silver-painted wooden pole, a silver tripod stand, and dozens upon dozens of brown paper tubes. Within those tubes were the sparkling silver branches which sprang forth, full and perfectly-formed, when you pulled them from their paper sleeves. Once the branches were anchored securely into the angled slots of the tree trunk, it made for six feet of gleaming, glittering "space tree" that would have made the engineers at NASA proud!
There was one drawback to the aluminum Christmas tree, however. You could not string conventional Christmas lights on it. Due to the very real danger of using electric lights on the highly-conductive aluminum branches, another avenue for tree-lighting had to be found. That problem was resolved via the rotating "color wheel" invented to illuminate the "Tree-of-the-Future". I remember my brother and I lying on the living room floor for what seemed to be hours, watching the color wheel revolve as it changed the aluminum tree from bright red, to yellow, to blue, to green, then back through the spectrum once again. Our attention spans must have been cast in concrete and steel back then, if such a simple spectacle entertained us for such a long period of time. Incidently, I bought a cheap retro aluminum tree last year, with an equally cheap color wheel, believing that my children would be just as enthralled by its cascades of wonderous color as I had been as a child. They watched it for perhaps the first two go-arounds, then bored to tears, left that spinly little aluminum tree all to itself, to change color without witness. If mine and my brother's attention spans were ironclad, then those possessed by today's kids must consist of PlayDoh and Elmer's Glue.
There were alot of tacky Christmas decorations back then. Tacky but immensely popular. Bubble lights. Cardboard chimneys. Glitter-painted glass balls. Those pointy-nosed pixies with their long legs tucked beneath their crossed arms. Garishly painted plastic Santas that stood sentry on your lawn. The list was endless! But we enjoyed them all and relished their bright and gaudy brilliance.
One thing I remember from those early days of my childhood was our yearly trips to Harvey's Department Store to see Santa Claus. During those pre-mall days, you had to venture to the very heart of downtown to do your Christmas shopping and, for us, that meant enduring the hustle and bustle of Church Street in downtown Nashville. For a small boy, it seemed like a really big deal. My father would parallel-park his sharp-finned, two-toned '56 Chevy and we would enter Harvey's through the front entrance. Fred Harvey had opened the department store back in 1946 and was a first-class entrepreneur in every sense of the word. His way of doing business was to dazzle and impress, even if he did go a little overboard sometimes. His store was decorated with carrousel horses, fun house mirrors, and even a monkey bar on the top floor (no, not what you find on the playground... a snack bar with real monkeys on display. It was even rumored that Mr. Harvey would let the monkeys loose and let them run rampant through the store if business was down!)
But the Christmas celebration at his downtown department store wasn't Mr. Harvey's only holiday contribution to Music City. As a gift to the people of Nashville, he set up an annual Nativity scene on the lawn of nearby Centennial Park, near the steps of the full-sized replica of the Greek Parthanon. Between the years of 1953 and 1967, this full-sized nativity, complete with human figures, camels, livestock, and palm trees -- all hand-crafted and imported from Italy -- graced the park, drawing thousands of holiday visitors.
I remember we visited the Nativity at least once during each holiday season. We would park our car near the Parthenon and, bundled in heavy winter coats, scarfs, and ear-flap caps, walk the length of the display in utter awe. For a child it was really something to see... the birth of Jesus depicted in such a way, the figures illuminated with lights that faded from white to blue to red, while a sound system softly played Christmas carols. I remember afterward, we would drive to the Krystal's on Charlotte Avenue, sit at the counter, and have some of those little square hamburgers that smelled deliciously of mustard and grilled onions. Yum! Sometimes we'd get home in time to watch shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas on our black and white TV.
Friday, December 12, 2008
I am extremely pleased to announce that two of my favorite authors of horror and suspense, Fran Friel and John R. Little, have been nominated for the prestigious Black Quill, awarded annually by Dark Scribe Magazine for excellence in dark genre fiction. The award catagories include best novel, small press publication, collection, short story, non-fiction work, short fiction magazine, and book trailer.
Here are how Fran's and John's nominations stand:
Fran Friel's Mama's Boy & Other Dark Tales for Best Dark Fiction Collection (anthology or single author collection). Fran's collection of dark short stories, novellas, poetry, and flash fiction, published by Apex Publications, completely knocked the wind out of me with it's freshness, well-honed prose, dark humor, and downright nastiness. It is an all-encompassing collection unlike any I've ever read before. Besides new and previously published fiction, it includes the Stoker nominated novella Mama's Boy. I'm still convinced that this sweet and gentle woman has an evil writing twin that she keeps chained to a typewriter in a crumbling castle tower. Absolutely first-rate entertainment, word for word, with enough humor and horror to keep the reader wondering what to expect next.
John R. Little's Miranda for Best Small Press Chill (novel or novella by a small press publisher). When I read John's The Memory Tree, I thought that it was one of the best pieces of fiction (horror or otherwise) that I had read in the past several decades. His novella, Miranda, published by Bad Moon Books, came within a hair's-breath of topping it. John's heart-wrenching story of a man who lives his life backward, from death to birth, and the only woman who can understand his dilemma and offer him love and companionship, was one of the most interesting and involving pieces of time-slip fiction I have ever read. With an incredible backwards text design by Cesar Pugh and stellar artwork by Alan M. Clark, this chapbook is much more than it appears to be... it is truly a literary event to be savored and enjoyed.
But please don't take my word for it. I urge all of you to find out for yourselves. If you haven't already read these two wonderful volumes of dark fiction, you may order them directly from the publishers at http://www.apexbookcompany.com/ and http://www.badmoonbooks.com/, or from the Horror Mall at http://www.horror-mall.com/ . After you have read these two incredible publications, you may cast your votes on the Dark Scribe website at http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/ . To vote you must first register. After that quick and painless process, you may access the reader's Black Quill ballot and make your selections. Voting closes at midnight EST on Sunday, January 25th, 2008.
And, while you're at it, remember... it's the holiday season. Why not order two or three copies of each for Christmas gifts? I can think of no better gift for the reader of dark fiction than to find Mama's Boy & Other Dark Tales and Miranda in their fireplace stocking.
Again, a hearty congratulations to Fran and John for their individual nominations and much luck to them during the final count. To be included with the other nominees -- the cream of the crop as far as dark genre fiction is concerned -- is surely an award in itself. Good job, guys, and keep up the great work!
Monday, December 8, 2008
On December 4th, Forrest J. Ackerman, known to millions of horror and sci-fi fans as "Mr. Science-Fiction" and the creator/editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, died of heart failure in Los Angeles. He was 92 years old.
Given my love of this iconic figure of my monster-loving childhood and my limitless respect for all he has done for the genres of horror, science-fiction, and suspense, it would have seemed natural for me to have rushed to my keyboard upon learning the news of his death and written a tribute blog right there on the spot. But I didn't. Here it is nearly four days later and, finally, I am sitting here, expressing my feelings in the face of this great loss. I reckon that I was a little sad and depressed over his passing. Even fans need time to grieve... especially a world of adopted nephews and neices of our beloved "Uncle Forry".
This isn't the first blog I've written concerning Mr. Ackerman and his wonderful periodical. Scroll down to my October entries and you will find a heart-felt salute to Forry and Famous Monsters. I'd like to say I wrote it mainly because it was the Halloween season and because of a nostalgic journey into my childhood. But it was something more. Even before I discovered through the internet that Forrest J. Ackerman was ailing and on the point of death, I had him on my mind. I don't know why... I just did. I'd be writing a grisly tale of horror and some creepy/crazy pun he wrote in some distant page of FM would spring into mind, or an image of his mustachioed face with the upper portion of Frankenstein's clamp and bolt-laden forehead artfully added above his brow. I found myself digging out old issues of Famous Monsters and reading them, from cover to gruesome cover. It wasn't necessarily a conscious act on my part, at least I don't feel that it was. Instead, it was almost as though I sensed that something of great importance was about to happen... something that concerned Forry and my favorite monster magazine of all time.
Then, when I heard that Forry was dying, a melancholy feeling of grim understanding and acceptance came over me. Perhaps I had been immersing myself in Famous Monsters and the man who was responsible for it for a good reason. Perhaps I had been subconciously preparing myself for a loss that would rival the death of a very dear and well-loved blood relative. Whether I actually knew it or not, I was bracing myself for the loss of the best friend a monster-loving boy had during that memorable "Monster Boom" of my childhood.
There was something else that caused me to delay in writing this blog. More bad news. Other iconic figures from that significant period of the 50's and 60's were falling in rapid succession. Actress Beverly Garland, who was popularly known for her character on the old My Three Sons TV show, had passed away. Besides her extensive television career, whe was also a certified "scream queen" in dozens of old monster movies... many a Roger Corman classic such as Swamp Woman, It Conquered the World, and Not of this Earth, as well as other horror films like The Alligator People. And another great from that era, the incredible Bettie Page, was reported to have suffered a heart attack and was in a coma. That beautiful "girl-next-door" with the raven black bangs (and a Tennessee gal to boot) was no longer a vivacious vixen, but a frail lady of 85 and in grave health. It seemed like last week was a crucial time for surviving icons of that period of entertainmant history. Two had passed away, leaving one behind, struggling for life. And that was terribly sad and sobering... especially for a fan of all three.
But it was the death of Forry Ackerman that effected me the most. Although I almost felt that I had lost a vital link to my childhood, he still lives on... inside every kid who ran down to the corner drugstore or newstand to pick up the latest copy of Famous Monsters... the same kids who grew up to be horror writers and movie directors of science fiction and fantasy. Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg are among them. And, in my own small way, so am I.
Most of you know me and my opinion of the certainty of the hereafter. While I grieve the loss of Uncle Forry, I can't help but believe that he has moved on to a much better place than his native planet Earth. I can just imagine him now, walking arm-in-arm with those horror giants who have gone on before him -- Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, and Price -- strolling through the hallways of that great Acker-Mansion in the sky.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Luckily, the road turned out to be less rocky and lengthy than was first forecasted. On a routine follow-up visit at Ryan's orthopedic doctor the day before Thanksgiving, the x-ray taken of his femur looked so incredibly wonderful that everything was taken off of him and he rode home (a good fifty miles from Nashville to Brush Creek) in non-confining comfort... a free man.
The doctors are utterly amazed at how swiftly the fracture healed... so much so that we've nicknamed him "Little Wolverine". I must say, Ryan's new attitude following the absence of his restraint is equally amazing. He is much happier now and seems more friendly and outgoing. Before the accident, he was very suspicious of adults, even of relatives such as his grandparents, and overly clingy toward his Mama and Daddy. But he seems much more willing to put his trust in others now. In that respect, I believe this adverse experience has helped him quite a bit. Physically, he is beginning to use his left leg and is pretty much learning to crawl all over again. The various Christmas trees we've decorated around the house, as well as the brightly-wrapped gifts underneath, have served as a great motivator at getting him moving again. I expect him to climb to the top of the living room tree and give the angel on top a big sloppy kiss before Christmas Eve rolls around.
This past Thanksgiving, we had much to be thankful for and many people to thank personally. I'd like to thank several here publicly. First, Dr. Jordan, the pediatrician who first examined Ryan, as well as the emergency room staff at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, who did all in their power, through expertise and compassion, to make that long Friday night/Saturday morning hospital stay as painless and bearable as possible. Thanks to Dr. Greene and his orthopedic office staff for being friends as well as doctors, nurses, and x-ray technicians (and for getting us in and out of the office as swiftly as possible). A big thanks to the Smith County Sheriff's Department and Ashley at Tennesse DHS for their investigation into this incident (perhaps some day we will learn the real truth concerning November 6th). And an extra big thanks to MetoKote (my workplace) for their patience and compassion, friends and family, and my church family at New Middleton Baptist Church. During that long month when we only had one income coming in, you made all the difference in the world. The entire Kelly family is extremely grateful for each and every act of kindness that was bestowed upon us.
Now here it is Wednesday afternoon and I can't help but feel a little sad. Next Monday, Ryan is off to a new daycare provider and I return to work (Gloom, despair, and agony on me!) It is sad that my "bonus time" with my new son is coming to an end, but we did some solid bonding during that four-week period. What was once a dyed-in-the-wool Mama's boy is now somewhere inbetween. His cheerful cries of "Da-Da-Da-Da!" can be heard ringing through the house. And I can't help but beam a big, sappy smile because of it.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Not that we were strange to the extreme. The Kelly family -- mom, dad, brother, and myself -- was not your run-of-mill clan. We were a quiet and introverted bunch who kept mostly to ourselves. Oh, we were friendly to our neighbors and all. We went to church on Sunday morning and paid our taxes on time. We just had a peculiar way about us. And that usually extended to our celebrating of the holidays as well.
For the most part, we never celebrated Thanksgiving in the traditional way. We never headed off to Granny's house for the traditional holiday meal. My mother's side of the family were poor folks with scarcely enough to feed themselves, let alone a pack of relatives with a ravenous appetite. My father's side of the family was even more peculiar than we were. Grandma and Grandpa Kelly never celebrated any holidays that I could remember, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. No pumpkin pie or Christmas tree was to be found in that little four-room house in the rural town of Theta. Just the cloying smell of moth balls, endless copies of Tennessee Farmer lying about, and a furnace cranked up a few degrees shy of the surface temperature of the Sun.
So we concocted our own private Thanksgiving feast. This took place mainly between the years of 1968 and 1974, and involved a bygone device that many have completely forgotten. A wonderful wheel-like smorgasbord popular in the eras of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. The party on a turntable... the incredible Lazy-Susan.
I remember that my mother had acquired one around the spring of '68, whether as a birthday gift or a door prize at a Tupperware party, I have no earthly idea. I just remember that it showed up in the center of our kitchen table one night at suppertime. I don't believe my father was all that impressed with Mama's Lazy-Susan (he was a meat and potatoes man!) but my brother and I thought it was pretty danged cool. We used it a few times at suppertime, when we were having sandwiches and chips and such. Then, that November, Mama asked us boys what we wanted for our Thanksgiving meal. I looked at my brother Kevin and he looked at me and, in unison, we said "The Lazy-Susan! You know, with all kinds of snacks and stuff!" It seemed like a good idea to us all... a Thanksgiving meal without all the fuss and bother. My father sort of frowned upon the notion, but alas, he was outvoted three-to-one.
The Lazy-Susan itself was a marvel of technological design. A rotating base with a three-tiered selection of matching porcelain recepticles, ending in a large, covered dip bowl at the very top. Mama stocked the Lazy-Susan with all kinds of neat stuff... things we never ate as part of our regular menu. The lower tier sported finger sandwiches made of white bread and potted meat or pimento cheese, as well as potato chips or Fritos. The second tier contained mixed nuts, Chex mix, M&Ms, and those little pillow-shaped mints that were so popular at parties and weddings back then. The top tier with its dip bowl contained French onion dip, for the chips on the lower landing. It was fun to spin the Lazy-Susan back and forth, helping ourselves to the myrid of treats that it offered us.
Around the time that Nixon left office, the novelty of the Lazy-Susan wore off and we returned to traditional Thankgiving fare. Our Lazy-Susan was retired to an upper shelf of the kitchen cabinet, never to thrill and wheel again. I have no idea whatever happened to the thing. Perhaps, while we slept, my father spirited it away in a trash bag and hauled it off to the town dump with a mischevious grin on his face and a muttering of "Good riddence!" on his lips.
These days I spend my Thanksgiving at my in-law's house, enjoying the traditional meal of roast turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole (you can't have too many varieties of taters down here in Tennessee!), macaroni and cheese, shoe-peg corn, and pecan pie (or pumpkin pie, if you so desire). Add gallon after gallon of sweet tea and you have a Thanksgiving feast a Southerner can really sink his teeth into!
But even now, I still have fond memories of that snack-laden Lazy Susan that reeled off the mileage in the center of our dining room table on Thanksgiving Day. That was a recipe my parents used over and over again during the course of my childhood. The simple but appealing equation of Weirdness + Nonconformity= Fun with a capital F. And for that, I feel pretty dadgummed lucky.
Monday, November 17, 2008
The preacher got to talking about things that were ruining today's youth and leading Christian children down the path of depravity. He started reeling off TV shows and books, and then he slammed his hand down on the podium and said "And you let your kids read that old Harry Potter! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Well, I looked at my wife and she looked at me. Joyce looked a tad guilty. I didn't.
Our oldest daughter, Reilly, absolutely loves Harry Potter. The films, the books, everything that has to do with the boy sorcerer and Hogwarts academy for witches and warlocks. When she found out that Universal Studios was in the process of building a Harry Potter section in the Orlando amusement park, she was in seventh heaven. I'm sure we'll be walking the same cobblestones that young Harry has the next time we take a trip to Florida.
If I have anything to feel guilty about, it is denying my daughter the pleasure of the Harry Potter legend for several years, due to buying into the supposed evil of J.K. Rowling's magical land. Before returning to the mostly controversial genre of horror fiction, I was one of those in the amen corner, agreeing to the warnings that were being cast about... how our children would be led from God by the reading of the Potter novels or the viewing of the motion pictures, and how they would develop an interest in witchcraft and perhaps even want to dabble in the black arts.
Yes, I was blindsided by all that bull. But after deciding to return to writing in a field that most Christians regard to be questionable at best -- and abominable at worst -- I looked at the appeal of Harry Potter in a different light. Sure, Rowlings' entire fictional world is based on the practicing of witchcraft, but it is pure fantasy, not some dark snare set to sap our children of their faith and send them back-sliding toward the fiery pit. I've watched most of the movies and enjoyed them immensely, finding them to be clever and refreshing. As far as harmful is concerned, I see nothing dangerous about the content in the least. The Harry Potter legend comes across as a more hip and intelligent version of Bewitched. And, if my parents allowed me to watch that innocent, fun-loving television show about zany witches and warlocks, I certainly see no reason to deny my own kids an innocent, fun-loving series of books and movies about a bespectacled boy with a lightning bolt scar emblazoned upon his forehead.
Yes, I do consider myself to be a Christian, but I do not hold the same belief as some of my fellow believers that horror and fantasy fiction is basically evil and orchestrated by the devil. Some folks think that a writer must surely be morally bankrupt to want to write about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and the like... and even more depraved to want to focus their work on witches and warlocks. Simply put, to write about such things does not mean that we believe in them. It simply means that we have a macabre interest in monsters and menace and things that go bump in the night. And if we have a God-given ability to write of such things convincingly -- and scare and entertain folks in the process -- then maybe the Almighty has a purpose for blessing us with such a gruesome talent. Maybe it's the old tried-and-true storytelling of good versus evil that He wants us to carry on... a theme that is plentiful within the pages of the Bible itself.
So, despite the strict conventions of organized religion and frowning-upon by my fellow churchgoers, I will continue to write about vampires, werewolves, and the darker side of man... and feel no guilt about it. And I will let my children watch that so-called black magician and misguider of youth, Harry Potter... and I'll not feel a speck of shame for doing so.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
We discovered Friday afternoon that our infant son, Ryan, has suffered a broken leg. My wife and I knew something wasn't quite right Thursday night when we changed his diaper and he cried out when we moved his left leg. We simply thought he'd hurt it somehow while he was playing (he's at that rambunctious age where he gets into EVERYTHING!). Friday morning, my wife asked our daycare lady about it and she remembered that our youngest daughter, Makenna, had been napping on the couch and, upon waking, stumbled and fell on Ryan, sitting down in his lap... all 37 pounds of her. We took Ryan to the pediatrician Friday afternoon, then on to X-ray, and discovered that he had suffered a spiral fracture to his left femur bone.
Late Friday evening found us heading to Nashville and Vanderbilt Children's Hospital. Due to the fact that he was only seven-months-old and a femur fracture is a particularly serious one, they fixed Ryan up good... with a body cast that starts just below his chest, extends down both legs, and ends at his ankles. There is a steel bar between his knees that seperate and stabilizes his legs. I must admit, he's a right pitiful sight to behold, but it hasn't dampened his spirits in the least. He's still as cheerful as ever (see the photo above). To tell you the truth, if it was me stuck in that contraption, I'd likely be in a mighty sorry and cantankerous mood!
Ryan will wear the cast for four to six week, until the fracture heals completely. Since he will require around-the-clock care, I've decided to take a family medical leave from my job to stay home and take care of him. I may get a little writing in during that time, but my main concern is to make sure that Ryan's healing process is 100% positive with no setbacks. But with the good Lord's help -- as well as the thoughts and prayers of friends and family -- I'm sure we'll get through the next month and a half just fine.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
With it being the Halloween season and all, I can't help but have monsters on the brain lately. We had already decorated most of the house (the living room looks like a chamber of horrors!) but there seemed to be something missing. "Why don't you put out those old monster models of yours?" one of my daughters suggested.
So I did just that. I opened our old cedar chest (an heirloom passed down by my late mother) and there, nestled between stacks of books, stood my small platoon of surviving monsters... a little dusty, but still intact and ready for display. Most of the Universal Monsters that I loved so much as a child were there: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy, King Kong, and my all-time favorite, the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
I had possessed them all at one time or another, but, sadly, some had become damaged and were discarded along the way. Just bringing these out of storage and sprucing them up for Halloween brought back cherished memories of those days when I was nine or ten, when those wonderful Aurora monster models were all the rage. Along with Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, the models are what I remember most about my boyhood during the late 60's and early 70's. Those cardboard boxes of plastic fodder for my ghoulish pre-pubescent imagination.
Aurora started releasing the Universal Monster models in the early 60's, in what was known as the "long box". That was before my time. Sure, I watched the old monster movies on my local creature feature around that time, but it wasn't until later -- around 1969 or 1970 -- when I really got into building the models. And they were the "glow-in-the-dark" kind in the square box.
An Aurora ad from the back cover of a DC comic
I recieved a very modest allowance back then for doing chores around the house and it was a flat-out miracle, but I usually managed to save every penny until we went to town at the start of the following month (that's what folks did when they lived out in the country with the big city twenty or thirty miles away). I remember riding in the back seat of my father's old two-toned '56 Chevy, sticking my hand in my jeans pocket every now and then to make sure I had remembered to bring those few dollar bills and a jingling fistful of change. If had forgotten my loot, it would have been a dark and dismal journey indeed. But luckily I never did, for that particular trip to town was motivated (on my part) by thoughts of glorious monsters, both on the printed page of a magazine and in styrene plastic within a creepily packaged box.
After stopping at Brown's Drugstore for the latest issue of Famous Monsters, we would head over to the only Sears department store in Nashville at the time. That was before the days of the big shopping malls... if you wanted to shop, you pretty much had to go downtown. Sandwiched between the mail-order pickup and the lawn & garden department was the toy department. Sears had an entire back wall devoted to models and hobby supplies back then. Most of the models were hot-rods and military aircraft, but stuck smack-dab in the center of all the "normal stuff", as my dad would call it, were the Aurora monster models... those square boxes bearing every man-made monster, vampire, werewolf, and creature that I had ever loved.
After selecting my monster-of-choice for that particular month, I would add some model glue (yes, they actually allowed kids to buy the stuff without a parental permission at that time) and maybe a few bottles of Estes paint if needed. I never cared much for the shiny paint, preferring the muted tones instead, for added authenticity. Also, I never smeared my monsters fangs and claws with candy-apple red to simulate blood. Alot of guys I knew wanted their monsters extra gory (even Kong and Godzilla), but I made mine as close to their movie counterparts as possible. This annoyed my model-building pals, but then I always did tend to go against the grain for the sake of realism.
On the way home, I always pestered my parents to let me peel away the cellophane and open the box. My mother insisted that I wait until we got home, but she knew the suspense was killing me! "Okay," she'd finally give in, "but if you lose a piece in the car, I don't want to hear you belly-ache about it later." Fortunately, I never lost a single piece of a model kit... even when my father slammed on the brakes at stop signs, because he wasn't paying attention.
We would usually get home around one or two o'clock in the afternoon. I'd take refuge in my bedroom, crack the window for proper ventilation (even in the dead of winter) and, with a snack of Kool-Aid and a peanut butter sandwich, prepare to work on my most recent model project. Most of the time, I would have an issue of Famous Monsters laid open for inspiration, but not close enough to be soiled by stray globs of glue or paint (heaven forbid!) On the glow-in-the-dark models, sometimes I used the glow pieces, sometimes I didn't. The models came with both sets of heads, hands, and feet, giving you a choice. If you wanted, you could even take the extra pieces and construct a cool, little "mini-monster".
My favorite of the bunch was the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He was cast in green plastic, so there wasn't a whole lot of painting involved, just the belly scales, gills, and fins. The Gillman had a really cool base, too, which included a skeleton hand, a swamp snake on a gnarled tree branch, and a big spiny lizard that I never could quite identify. A lot of the other models had neat bases as well. The Mummy's had chunks of temple columns and pyramid blocks decorated with hieroglyphics and a king cobra. Godzilla's had the buildings of Tokyo underfoot and Kong's had a totally-trampled jungle scene. Perhaps my favorite base was the Phantom's. There were the usual garnishments like rats and such, but there was also the window of a dungeon with a rotting and horrified victim within, clutching the iron bars in desperation. The least remarkable base belonged to Frankenstein. It was simply a grassy cemetery plot with a tombstone at the rear. Pretty boring compared to the others, but that didn't matter. You simply had to have ol' Square-Head in your collection.
A few of the models sort of irked me in one way or another. I loved the Wolfman, but could never figure out why he wore no shirt! After all, Lon Chaney Jr. always donned a long-sleeved work shirt whenever he went through the change. If it hadn't been for his jeans, held up by a rope (another faux pas of realism on the model designer's part), he would have been naked as a jaybird! Also, the Hunchback model was sort of a sloppy mixture of Chaney Sr.'s rendition and Anthony Quinn's bellringer. And the Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde model was several inches smaller than all the others, although it did have a cool table with laboratory beakers and bottles, and an overturned stool. The Witch was the most disappointing of the bunch. The figure itself was only about four or five inches tall, compared to Frankie's impressive nine inches. The Witch did have the most elaborate base of all, though, with a boiling cauldron and lots of creepy details that were particularly hard to paint.
Although not a true Universal Monster,
the Forgotten Prisoner of Castel Mare
has long been a favorite of model-builders
One of my favorite models wasn't even a true Universal monster at all. The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel Mare was the partly-clothed skeleton of some unfortunate victim, shackled to a moldering dungeon wall, its jaws stretched wide in a silent scream. Any youthful lover of horror really dug skeletons (pardon my pun) so that probably contributed to the Forgotten Prisoner's appeal, even though it didn't actually originate from a real motion picture. I heard later that it was created exclusively for Famous Monsters Magazine, which made it even more desirable.
The sad part was, once you finally put together the original twelve Aurora models, there was no more to be found, except for maybe the Munsters and the superhero models like Superman, Batman, and Robin. But just having those twelve horrific monsters on your bookshelf, glowing eerily in the dark hours of the night was both chilling and comforting to us monster-loving boys.
In recent years, companies like Revell, Polar Lights, and Moebius have re-released most of the old Aurora models. For decades, there was a disheartening rumor that Jekyll & Hyde's original molds had been destroyed, but the 2007 re-issue by Moebius proved that urban myth to be false. Although today's youth aren't really into model-building like their parents (or grandparents) were, and most kids wouldn't know Count Dracula if he came up and sank his fangs into their throat, the new re-issues give model-builders, both old and new, the chance to construct their favorite movie monster and relive those nostalgic days from the monster boom of the sixties and seventies.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I will be shipping the winner their Halloween prize bucket tomorrow morning with includes signed copies of FLESH WELDER, TANGLEWOOD, BLOOD KIN, DARK DIXIE, an UNDERTAKER'S MOON audio disc, signed bookmarks and cover flat, some truly disgusting Halloween treats, and a delicious staple of the American South... an RC Cola and a Moon Pie (and a double-decker chocolate one at that!)
Again, Congratulations to H. Casper (it seems downright appropriate, someone named Casper winning a Halloween contest!) Also a big thanks to all who entered. Look for more cool contests to come on RonaldKelly.com, including a Lucky Lycanthrope Contest in the Spring of 2009... and, of course, our 2nd Annual Southern-Fried Halloween Contest next October!
Saturday, October 18, 2008
My mother always said the same thing during our monthly trips to Brown's Drugstore on Charlotte Avenue. "I don't know... you really shouldn't dwell on that stuff." Then she would peek into the backseat of the car, see my stricken expression, and sigh in defeat. "Oh, okay... but don't let your little brother get his hands on it."
Grinning from ear to ear, I would hop out of the car and run inside. I'd head to the two-tiered magazine rack. The periodical that I desired was always in the lower section, in the back, lurking amongst the shadows. It would beckon to me in bright blood red or day-glow green letters; that title that made my heart pump wildly and sent a rash of goosebumps across my flesh. MONSTERS!
Or FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND to be exact. I always dispensed with the "Filmland" part and simply called it FAMOUS MONSTERS. Then, like kneeling before the Holy Grail itself, I would drop to my knees and slowly inch the magazine from the others it was hiding behind. One of the thrills of buying a copy was discovering which monster would be featured on that month's cover. It could be anything from Frankenstein's Monster, the Wolfman, or the Phantom of the Opera, to King Kong, the Fly, or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Once it had been the movie poster for FROGS... a humongous green toad with a human hand protruding from its gullet!
Then it was off to the sales counter to pay for it with my hard-earned allowance money. The proprietor of the drugstore, Mr. Brown, was usually working behind his pharmacy counter, but it seemed as if he was always there at the cash register to ring me up whenever I came in. He would say something like "Looks like a good one this month, Ronnie" or "You know, I saw this movie in the theatre when it was released". I was sort of in awe of Mr. Brown, not for being so nice and non-judgemental of a kid and his monster magazine, but for another reason. He looked almost exactly like Forrest J. Ackerman. The same average looks, the same horn-rimmed glasses, the same cheesy little mustache. And he seemed to genuinely love movie monsters.
In case you don't already know, Forrest J. Ackerman was the driving force behind FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine. The editor, the writer of most of the text, the presenter of the tons upon tons of rare black and white movie stills that made up the lion's share of the periodical. We monster fans simply referred to him as Forry or Uncle Forry, as he liked to be called. He really didn't seem like an adult at all. There was no strict "grow up and act your age!" nonsense from Forrest J. Ackerman. He was more like a big kid with the same interest and fascination with science fiction and horror that we possessed. And he lived in the coolest place on the face of the earth. The incredible Acker-Mansion.
The Acker-Mansion was located in Los Angeles and boasted 18 rooms packed to the ceiling with monster movie books, films, and memorabilia. Like stop-action models from King Kong and The Lost World, the brainy alien mask from This Island Earth, and the coup de grace... Dracula's cape and ring, presented to Forry by Bela Lugosi himself. That was another thing about Forry. He knew EVERYBODY. Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Jr., as well as famous writers and behind-the-scenes movie folks like Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen. And he loved to share his experiences with us through FM. It made us feel like we were a part of it all.
I remember one summer day -- I reckon I was ten years old -- me and some of my buddies were hanging out on the front porch. It was pouring down rain, so there wasn't much to do but talk and cut up... and read a few well-worn copies of FAMOUS MONSTERS. We were just shooting the breeze and then we started cooking up this crazy scheme, the way boys our age would do when we were bored out of our skulls and then suddenly got excited about some wild idea that popped into our heads. We discussed hopping a freight train (the railroad tracks were just across the highway) and riding it clear to California. We would hunt down Forry and knock on the front door of the Acker-Mansion. "Come on in, boys!" he would say, happy to see us. "Let me give you a grand tour of the place." We would spend hour upon hour exploring every nook and cranny and listening to Forry's wonderful stories. That night we would unfurl our sleeping bags and slumber in the creepiest room of the Acker-Mansion, surrounded by the eyes of a thousand monster movie relics. It was the perfect fantasy for four boys who read FAMOUS MONSTERS almost as religiously as the Bible. As far as I know, none of us ever made it to California. And none of us ever darkened the door of the Acker-Mansion.
But I did meet Forry once... if only for a few brief moments. It was during the first World Horror Convention in Nashville in 1991. On the Saturday afternoon of that fun-filled weekend, some fellow horror writers and I (novices all) decided to check out a suite on the fourth floor, which displayed dozens of detailed monster models, many sculpted lovingly by their creators. When we walked through the doorway, we were shocked to find two older gentlemen standing there, hanging out and shooting the breeze... like monster-loving boys stranded on a rainy front porch. It was Forrest J. Ackerman and author Robert Bloch. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted! I gathered up my nerve, approached the pair, and -- like some geeky fan-boy -- talked to them for a moment or so. They were both very gracious and kind. Looking back, I would wish nothing better now than to possess a time machine and make a little trip back to that chance meeting, toting a copy of FAMOUS MONSTERS, a copy of PSYCHO. an ink pen, and a camera with me. Still, I have my memory of those few wonderful minutes in the presence of greatness in the monster model room of that WHC hotel.
Even now, after all these years, I get out a few remaining copies of FM and embrace those cherished memories of my boyhood. Starting with the letters to the editor, moving on to those wonderful articles of Forry's with their abundance of puns and enthusiasm, followed by page upon page of fun ads for everything from 8mm horror movies to detailed Don Post monster masks. As I turn the pages, I recall those wonderful Saturday afternoons of my youth, putting together an Aurora glow-in-the-dark monster model and enjoying the most recent issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS.
Forry has long since retired from the publishing business. He has sold the world-famous Acker-Mansion and, at age 92, now lives in a smaller residence that he affectionately calls the Acker-Mini-Mansion. He still gives appreciative fans weekly tours of what is left of his collection, which still includes Lugosi's cape and Dracula ring.
There is one thing I forgot to mention about those monthly trips to Brown's Drugstore. Every now and then, when I reached the door to go inside, I would turn around and see Mama watching me from the car window, grinning from ear to ear. For, you see, I found out later in life that she was just as big a horror fan as I was, although she never let on. I reckon that was her secret passion.
I often wonder if she indulged herself while I was away at school. If perhaps she snuck into my bedroom, found the latest copy of FAMOUS MONSTERS, and retired to the living room. Who knows? Maybe she turned off Days of Our Lives, curled up on the couch, and spent a little quality time with Forry and the gang.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Just a reminder that the limited edition of Undertaker's Moon is now available for pre-order.
Full Moon Press just recently announced a release date of Feburary 2009 for my novel of Irish werewolves up to no good in the small Tennessee town of Old Hickory. Undertaker's Moon will be #1 in FMP's The Essential Ronald Kelly collection, which will include all eight of the original Zebra novels, plus several others, including Restless Shadows, the long-awaited sequel to Hindsight, and sequels for Fear and Blood Kin.
The numbered edition of Undertaker's Moon will feature some special additions to the original novel (formerly known as Moon of the Werewolf) including cover and interior illustrations by Alex McVey and a new prequel novella titled The Spawn of Arget Bethir. The lettered edition will include even more extras, as well as a special slipcase. I don't want to let the cat out of the bag about the slipcase just yet, but just think marble tombstones and wrought-iron cemetery gates. It's sure to be a one-of-a-kind collectable.
So far, the pre-orders for UM have been encouraging, putting it in the top-10 on Horror Mall's September Best-Seller list. You can place your order at www.horror-mall.com or directly from the publisher at www.thefullmoonpress.com .
Reserve your copy now... while they're still available!
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Oh, sure, girls are really into it on October 31st. They love the costumes and the candy. But the girls of my era (the mid-60's and early 70's) were more interested in Frankie Avalon or the Beatles, than Frankenstein, Dracula, or the Wolfman. They had more important things to do than spend their Saturday afternoons putting together Aurora monster models or rushing down to the corner drugstore for the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. They lacked something that the majority of red-blooded males possessed... an almost limitless fascination with the macabre and an unending desire to be "totally grossed out".
I believe I would be safe in the assumption that alot of boys between the ages of eight and twelve view the approach of All Hallows Eve with the same reverence that some folks view the Second Coming. I know I did at that age.
The amount of preparation during the four week period prior to the big night shows the degree of devotion involved. First, there are the decorations. Back in my day, we didn't have fake cobwebs, yard zombies, or life-like bats, rats, and spiders. And we sure didn't have life-sized animatronic witches and monsters who actually talk and, yes, even sing and dance (the mere thought of possessing such a wondrous thing back in the 60's and 70's would have been more than our youthful minds could have handled!) No, we were satisfied with a meticulously carved jack-o-lantern and a jointed, glow-in-the-dark skeleton we bought at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime in town.
Then there was the selection of precisely "what we would be" on the important night... alias "our secret Halloween identity". At the ages of three through seven, the pre-packaged costumes in a box were acceptable. Monsters, superheroes, astronauts, and TV stars were the most popular. The brittle plastic masks were cheaply rendered and the full-length body suits of non-flammable material were okay for the unseasoned tyke. I remember in the fall of 1966, the entire boyhood nation was bitten by the Batman bug. That Halloween, the streets were teaming with minature Batmen (no Robins... who wanted to be that sissy-pants Boy Wonder?) I was a member of that legion of Dark Knights on that dark night, polyester cape flapping, running down sidewalks and leaping upon porches without the aid of a tethered Batarang. Unlike my counterparts, I had talked my mother into cutting off the bottom half of my face mask, leaving only the cowl above. This puzzled my fellow Caped Crusaders to the point of irritation, but while they sweated and struggled for oxygen beneath their unaltered masks, I breathed in the cool, crisp air with great abandon, resembling -- in my six-year-old mind, at least -- a heroic and debonair Adam West.
As our age progressed, we cast aside the baby costumes and advanced to the next level... the latex rubber monster mask. Oh, how we yearned for those detailed Don Post creations that were offered in the back pages of Famous Monsters, but, alas, who our age had $39.95 back then, and an additional $18.95 for the matching hands? So we compromised. On the first day of October, my cousins and I would converge on Grant's Department Store (a precursor to Walmart) and head to their celebrated Halloween section. There, amid everything else, was a huge bin-table that was a good foot deep with every cheap rubber monster mask imaginable. You could find just about anything if you searched long enough... gorillas, devils, zombies, cavemen, werewolves, vampires. Some had hair, some didn't. There could have been a nest of rabid rats holed up in there, but we didn't care. We dug and rooted through that truckload of latex, trying them on, making sure the eyeholes aligned properly. Sure, we'd get a snide comment from a sales lady or the store manager about "spreading germs", but it failed to phase us. We searched for maybe an hour or so, just to find the right one.
Later on, when we had reached the wisdom of double-digit age, we would experiment with costumes other than those that involved masks. White and black greasepaint, rubber scars you stuck to your face, and plenty of fake vampire blood. Ocassionally, you wanted to do something completely different from the usual monster fare. One Halloween season I pretty much pestered my mother to death about dressing myself up as the Amazing Collosal Man. But she refused to let me go out in public dressed in nothing but a bald-headed wig and a loincloth.
Then there came the actual night of Halloween itself. That afternoon we usually had a party at school; playing games, getting treat bags from the teacher, and bobbing for apples (talk about spreading germs! Yeeech!) Then, that evening after supper, we'd suit up for battle and go trick-or-treating. Back in the mid-60's , folks seemed a little more trusting of one another than they do now, and parents especially so of their kids. If the young'uns were really young, a parent would accompany them, but if they were older than seven, they were pretty much set loose like a pack of candy-hungry Tasmanian devils, while their folks stayed home and gave out treats. I remember us wandering all over our small town with a freedom that is no longer possible in today's dangerous world. There weren't that many cars out back then; just gangs of trick-or-treaters on the prowl, with no reflective clothing or flashlights. The darkness was our friend and we embraced it.
And there was always one or two houses that were considered "haunted", either by ghosts or by particularly weird folks... but you still went there, if only for the thrill of bragging that you survived the visit. I remember back in '71, my brother and I went to the house of a new family that had moved into town only a couple of months previous to Halloween. Unlike the usual houses, where our treats were deposited on the doorstep, we where actually invited inside at this one... and, despite our better judgement, we actually took them up on their invitation. "There's someone in the den who would like to see you," said a skinny, bird-like lady. We walked into the room to find an overweight man in a leather recliner, dressed up like an evil clown. He had a wild, multi-colored wig, white face, red rubber nose, and a wicked looking grin. "Come closer," he beckoned with a bone-chilling giggle. Frightened (but deliciously so!) we crept forward. The guy stank of beer and unfiltered Camels. He deposited a wrapped popcorn ball in our sacks and said "Come back and see me again next year... if you dare!" We left that house feeling like we'd been in the presence of a true monster and that we had survived the encounter. For all we knew, the fellow's wife could have been a bone-gnawing cannibal and he could have been the most vile child molester/murderer on the face of the earth, but, at that age, we didn't care. It was a Halloween visit that we would remember and talk about for years afterward.
Of course, returning home with that night's booty intact was another story. It was common for us to romp through the darkness, stepping into sinkholes or falling into ditches, ripping our treat bags on tree branches or thorny shrubs. Sometimes we would make it home to find that half our candy was gone, lost somewhere along the way. The next day, after school, we would go out looking for lost treats. It was almost like an Easter egg hunt on the first of November. Bubble gum and Bit-O-Honeys would litter the lawns. If it had rained the night before, you could find bite-sized Babe Ruths bobbing in the drainage ditches like brightly-packaged turds in the bottom of a toilet.
These days, trick-or-treating is a different matter entirely. Parents have almost abandoned the practice of going door-to-door in favor of taking their kids to the local mall or a non-secular party at their local church, where ghosts and goblins, and particularly witches, are frowned upon.
Luckily, my kids still have the opportunity to experience Halloween the way it should be. In the nearby town of Alexandria (where my wife grew up) hundreds of trick-or-treaters converge on the town's main street, going from door to door without fear. Everyone knows everyone else there and the town police are out and about to keep order. Folks sit on their porches with big bowls of candy or treat bags, commenting on how cute or creative the kids costumes are, while socializing with the parents. It is a community celebration that is rare in this uncertain day and time and I'm thankful that my children are fortunate enough to take part in it every year.
Sometimes, when I'm standing at the end of the sidewalk, watching my young'uns on the doorstep with their bags extended and the words "Trick-or-Treat!" on their lips, a nostalgic feeling nearly overcomes me. I kind of wish I was a foot or two shorter, dressed in a Creature from the Black Lagoon mask, feeling the satisfying weight of a pound or two of candy in the bottom of my treat bag. Those days are past, but, through my children, I can still relive the magic of those wonderful Halloweens past.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Sunday, October 5, 2008
This tale is previously unpublished, but it's not a new one. I wrote it way back in the early 90's, when splatter-punk fiction was all the rage and horror writers were pushing the envelope of good taste. It's one of my nastier offerings, about a sociopath named Zachary and his bowl full of "special" Halloween goodies. Hope y'all enjoy it!