EVERYONE HAS

A DARK SIDE

Now available on Amazon for Kindle (print edition coming soon), my expanded Dark Fiction short story collection EVERYONE IS A MOON presents 12 twisted tales sure to disturb and delight those who like to play in the dark.

And check out my acclaimed Dark Comedy novel DEAD SIZE, "a fantastic blend of detective story, dark comedy, and waking daydream” as well as my "fascinating" and "riveting" True Crime-inspired Young Adult novella UGLYVILLE.

Also available, Dark Park Publishing’s “amazing” Sci-Fi Horror anthology WHAT HAS TWO HEADS, TEN EYES, AND TERRIFYING TABLE MANNERS?, edited by yours truly.

I hope you will give my books a try. There’s something for everyone... who isn’t like everyone else.

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WTF Am I Reading?

Posted By on June 22, 2018

EVERYONE IS A MOON is my definitive collection of short stories (at least, until I write a bunch more). While I’ve categorized the book as Dark Fiction as a whole, I don’t think that label really does it justice. The pieces are eclectic, ranging from absurdist dark comedy to psychological sci-fi to full-throttle horror. Since I like my readers to have an inkling of what they’re getting themselves into, here are TV Guide-worthy descriptions of each included tale:

The Good Touch — This whimsical, irreverent story spawned from my newfound fascination with trailer parks, faith healers, and Jesus making His comeback on burnt slices of toast.

Cutting Remarks — My stab (or rather, bludgeon) at an Alfred Hitchcock Presents type of tale, one specifically inspired by a Roald Dahl short story. There is nothing a married couple can’t reconcile if they work it out together.

The Boy Who Cried Alien — I’ve always been a fan of ’50s Sci-Fi alien/monster movies (see my anthology WHAT HAS TWO HEADS, TENS EYES, AND TERRIFYING TABLE MANNERS?). This is an homage to those films, and the people who watch too many of them.

Pet — Here is your typical “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy keeps girl’s pet” Science Fiction story. It was inspired by the sad end of classic Hollywood movie actress Marie Prevost.

In Memoriam the Ostrich — Hypocrisy is one of my favorite themes. And cannibalism. What does the Bible say about cannibalism? Turns out, pretty much nothing. Which does not make the pastor’s job in this piece easy.

The Mortality Machine — A love story of sorts that poses the question: if you say you’ll love somebody forever, can you mean it literally? If you’re a genius, maybe there’s a way.

The Lord Is My Rocket — This is my satirical poke at religious zealotry, wherein the devout Christian caregiver of a developmentally disabled man vows to save his soul by taking him to a unique monastery. Moral: you can’t save everyone.

The Beholder — The first draft of this character study about a man who finds beauty in everything he encounters was written while I was in high school. Though edited substantially since then, all versions have retained its original theme.

Mr. Gregori — In this Horror tale, a man cursed by a demon becomes infatuated with the new tenant of his apartment. Maybe she would love him back… if only she could see, hear, or feel him.

FYVP — This is a nasty little teeth-clencher about body modification and those who get a thrill out of it, made a bit classier by the literary reference at its climax.

The Dark at the Deep End — Loosely (very loosely) based on some of my own teenage experiences, this conte cruel (“cruel tale”) chronicles a budding serial killer before he acts on his sadistic impulses. 

Suitable for Framing — With a plot salvaged from one of my earliest unproduced screenplays, it’s a commentary on art, artists, and their fans. How much you enjoy this story perhaps says something about what kind of fan you are. Not judging; just putting it out there.

10 Books that Burrowed into My Brain

Posted By on April 29, 2017


I read a lot of books, but frankly I forget about most not long after I’ve finished them. While I may well have enjoyed the reads, only a select few titles have managed to stick with me to this day, years later. Below is my Top Ten list of these. They’re not all classics, and I wouldn’t recommend them all to everyone. However, they’re the ones I remember — their plots, characters, even lines of dialogue or prose. Your mileage may vary, but I think they’re at least worth a test drive.

Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon
“Zephyr, Alabama, is an idyllic hometown for eleven-year-old Cory Mackenson — a place where monsters swim the river deep and friends are forever. Then, one cold spring morning, Cory and his father witness a car plunge into a lake — and a desperate rescue attempt brings his father face-to-face with a terrible, haunting vision of death. As Cory struggles to understand his father’s pain, his eyes are slowly opened to the forces of good and evil that surround him. From an ancient mystic who can hear the dead and bewitch the living, to a violent clan of moonshiners, Cory must confront the secrets that hide in the shadows of his hometown — for his father’s sanity and his own life hang in the balance.”

Callisto by Torsten Krol
“Odell Deefus, who’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, has one goal: to ‘try my hardest to be a good soldier against the mad dog Islamites.’ But while driving to an army enlistment office in Callisto, Kansas, his ’78 Chevy breaks down on the side of a country road, and it’s only the beginning of his troubles. When he accepts a local’s offer of shelter until the car is repaired, things go from bad to worse — worse as in murder, drug dealers, tenacious televangelists… and finding himself a prime target of the FBI, which thinks he’s a member of a terrorist sleeper cell. And none of it bodes well for his unrequited crush on Condoleezza Rice. But fear, rash judgments, and extreme reactions are simply the norm in a post-9/11 world. Odell will just have to deal with it.”

Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol
“Shortly after World War I, a troubled man accepts a solitary assignment as a ‘weather official’ on a tiny, remote island on the edges of the Antarctic. When he arrives, the predecessor he is meant to replace is missing and a deeply disturbed stranger is barricaded in a heavily fortified lighthouse. At first adversaries, the two find that their tenuous partnership may be the only way they survive the unspeakably horrific reptilian creatures that ravage the island at night, attacking the lighthouse in their organized effort to find warm-blooded food. Armed with a battery of ammunition and explosives, the weather official and his new ally must confront their increasingly murderous mentality, and, when the possibility of a kind of truce presents itself, decide what kind of island they will inhabit.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
“Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This is the improbable story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog.”

The Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale
“When a group of friends decided to spend a day at the world’s largest Drive-In theater horror fest, they expected to see tons of bloody murders, rampaging madmen, and mayhem — but only on the screen. As a mysterious force traps all the patrons inside the Drive-In, the worst in humanity comes out.”

Island by Richard Laymon
“When eight people go on a cruise in the Bahamas, they plan to swim, sunbathe and relax. Getting shipwrecked is definitely not in the script. But after the yacht blows up they’re stranded on a deserted island, and there’s a maniac on the loose.”

Lamb by Christopher Moore
“The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts, and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years — except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to tell the story. Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons, and hot babes. Even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Savior’s pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. But there’s no one who loves Josh more — except maybe ‘Maggie,’ Mary of Magdala — and Biff isn’t about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.”

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“Awe and exhilaration — along with heartbreak and mordant wit — abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love — love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.”

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
“Following the death of a friend, the poet and pets’ mortician Dennis Barlow finds himself entering the artificial Hollywood paradise of the Whispering Glades Memorial Park. Within its golden gates, death, American-style, is wrapped up and sold like a package holiday, and Dennis gets drawn into a bizarre love triangle with Aimée Thanatogenos, a naïve Californian corpse beautician, and Mr. Joyboy, a master of the embalmer’s art. Waugh’s dark and savage satire on the Anglo-American cultural divide depicts a world where reputation, love, and death cost a very great deal.”

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban
“Set in a remote future in a post-nuclear holocaust England (Inland), Hoban has imagined a humanity regressed to an iron-age, semi-literate state — and invented a language to represent it. Riddley is at once the Huck Finn and the Stephen Dedalus of his culture: rebel, change agent, and artist.”

Revisiting “VENT!: The Online Magazine for Disgruntled Filmmakers” (Part 2)

Posted By on July 3, 2016

A significant element of VENT!’s raison d’être (see previous post) was demonstrating that even the most lauded filmmakers had difficult, even doubtful beginnings. Below are a few true origin stories I had shared on the website about some famous auteurs. Whether you’re a filmmaker, author, musician, or other artist, there’s always hope if you’re resourceful and persistent. (Being talented probably helps too.)

  • Francis Ford Coppola, the genius behind such cinema classics as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, began his filmmaking career a little less illustriously. In 1961, as a UCLA film student, 22-year-old Coppola wrote, produced and directed a nudie short called “The Peeper” (inspired by Russ Meyer’s The Immoral Mr. Teas). He combined it with a nudie western (made by others), plus some additional footage. The result was the 66-minute Tonight For Sure (original title: Wide Open Spaces). Coppola also shot new scenes for the nudie feature Playgirls and the Bellboy before going on to work for B-movie mogul Roger Corman.
  • Controversy monger and hyperkinetic filmmaker Oliver Stone began his auspicious career in the industry working for schlockmeisters Troma Entertainment (The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die, Class of Nuke ‘Em High), first as an actor in the G-rated(!) The Battle of Love’s Return (1971), and then as associate producer a year later on the initially X-rated erotic thriller Sugar Cookies.
  • Guerilla moviemaker turned Hollywood mover-shaker Robert Rodriguez partially financed his early films, including El Mariachi, by volunteering as a “lab rat” for medical experiments. One week-long session to test a speed healing drug required he endure biopsies in which small chunks of flesh were removed from both his arms.
  • Before moving to Austin, Texas to make his hit debut feature Slacker, Richard Linklater left school to work hard labor on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • In lieu of film school, punch-happy film geek Quentin Tarantino learned his craft through working at a video store. His first job, providing him with an education of a somewhat different sort, was at a porno theater called the Pussycat Lounge.
  • Alan Rudolph, protégé of auteur Robert Altman and later director of such cryptically giddy films as Choose Me and Trouble in Mind, started off as assistant director on The Brady Bunch TV series. Among the very first projects on which he had honed his filmmaking talents (under a pseudonym) was the twisted 1973 horror feature Barn of the Naked Dead. The “plot” includes kidnapped women in chains, a psycho dressed as a ringmaster with a whip, a long-haired mutant from an H-bomb test site, as well as ridiculous dialogue, terrible sound, and bad editing.
  • Celebrated filmmaker/humorist Woody Allen was not quite the exemplary student. Before he was bounced out of New York University after having been enrolled for a total of only two semesters, he had never earned more than a grade of C- in motion picture production and an F in English. He admits to having skipped half of his classes (although he did attend the film screenings regularly). One dean told Woody he was “not good college material” and a professor of his declared he had no future in film. Years later, in lieu of academic honors and a college diploma, Allen has won major critical acclaim and three Academy Awards (and many nominations) for his work.

Revisiting “VENT!: The Online Magazine for Disgruntled Filmmakers” (Part 1)

Posted By on May 1, 2016

Way back in 1997, after I had completed producing my one and so far only feature film on a $60,000 budget, I launched a semi-popular website called VENT! It focused on the flourishing world of indie filmmaking at a time when regular folks were maxing out multiple credit cards (à la Kevin Smith’s CLERKS) or enrolling themselves in paid scientific research studies (à la Richard Linklater’s SLACKER) to finance their own films. VENT! was a venue for indie filmmakers to share and bitch about how hard it was to make and make money from a film on your own.

VENT-logo

Now here I am, almost 20 years later, and I still have the film bug. I still write screenplays between my prose work. And I still want to direct another film. (Ideally one more successful than my first opus.) I believe I still boast the visual storytelling chops, and desire to demonstrate them… as soon as I can get somebody to give me the funds to do so. (Major lesson I learned from my first opus: use other people’s money.)

I recently came across the content of VENT! on my computer and thought it would be an interesting, inspiring, perhaps painful reminder of what true independent filmmaking entails. Turns out much of it is as relevant today as it was in ’97.

To start this series of posts off, below is the homepage introduction to the site:

“I’m shocked when I read things calling the new generation slackers or Generation X. This is a great, great generation. They are totally passionate about the cinema, the law, cooking. And there is no place for them.” -Francis Ford Coppola

Independent filmmaking is booming, and the explosion has left many an indie filmmaker writhing in its aftermath. More independent films (especially low and no budgets) have been made in the past five years than have been produced in the previous twenty-five years.

Here is a no-punches pulled (excepting slanderous allegations), no-bullshit (okay, maybe a little bullshit) place to vent all your frustrations about the medium you, as a filmmaker, so passionately embrace. This is the online magazine to bitch and moan about everything in this biz that vexes you, and to educate fellow film and video makers on what to do and what to avoid. Here we can benefit from each other’s experiences, or inexperience, with major studios, production companies, distributors, exhibitors, producers’ reps, film festivals, attorneys, agents and critics. It is not meant to discourage or bum out struggling filmmakers. Rather, it is a reality check for us, composed of doses of venom, advice and humor. It is to show all indie filmmakers that we’re not alone in our efforts to get our films made and seen, and that, in this ever-morphing industry, there often are no hard and fast rules to succeed. It might not make us feel any better to learn there are so many of us striving to get noticed, but hopefully it will rouse support and spark ideas among the independent film community.

VENT is group therapy for down-but-not-yet-out movie makers.

VENT will also have interviews with established indie filmmakers who tell how they got where they are, as well as with suicidally-in-debt filmmakers who are still waiting to be discovered and just trying to survive. If you are an indie filmmaker who has produced a film and can’t get it sold or screened, or if you’re an aspiring filmmaker who can’t get your film financed, or if you’re just someone who wants to “let ’em have it” in the motion picture business, write to VENT about all your trials, troubles and tribulations.

Remember, every filmmaker, whether you have made a film or not, is alike in one respect: We all share a dream. VENT will wake us up.

Interview with James Burns, author of LET’S GO TO HELL: SCATTERED MEMORIES OF THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS

Posted By on August 29, 2015

photo 1986 William McConnell

photo 1986 William McConnell

The Butthole Surfers were the most important band I listened to during my formative teen years. They were my Beatles, my Grateful Dead, my One Direction(?). From the first time I heard frontman Gibby Haynes bellow ‘SATAN! SATAN! SATAN!’ at the beginning of “Sweat Loaf” on their 1987 album Locust Abortion Technician to my first BHS concert at the Ritz in New York City—featuring fog machines, strobe lights, flaming cymbals, penis surgery movies, and a nearly bald, entirely naked go-go dancer—I was hooked. The Butthole Surfers spoke to me, and I haven’t been the same since.

An old friend of mine, James Burns, has written the definitive, long-overdue Butthole Surfers book, LET’S GO TO HELL: SCATTERED MEMORIES OF THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS. Also capturing the socio-political climate under the Reagan regime, it features scores of rare photos and anecdotes from many punk rock luminaries.

Jim was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and his memories of BHS close encounters:

Q: What makes the Butthole Surfers worthy of a biographical book?

A think a lot of people have forgotten just how important the Butthole Surfers were in the evolution of alternative rock, and of rock music in general.

photo 1987 Ken Salerno

photo 1987 Ken Salerno

They were one of the first bands to fully incorporate the complete history of rock music into the context of punk rock, and certainly one of the most successful bands to do so, in the 80s especially.

After most of punk rock was becoming unmotivated, around 1986-87, the Buttholes were there to remind folks the reasons we were drawn to punk rock in the first place. The fact that they could do that while playing 10-minute long improv jams remains a pretty amazing feat.

By 1989 or so, after they became a quartet, they were writing serious rock songs. The thing is, they weren’t putting out records. Their 4-song ep Widowermaker only alluded to what they were doing live. They had dozens of tunes that didn’t get released until later on. If you want to know who built the bridge between punk rock and grunge, I would argue the Buttholes were THE band to do it.

I also think they are an amazing study of how to run a band, and that any band can make it, no matter the name or style of music, providing you are committed (or committable) enough. They were real troubadours.

Q: What musicians influenced the Buttholes? How have the Buttholes influenced other musicians?

I don’t think the band was limited to any particular influence, per se. They’ll perhaps mention their love of The Fall, Television, or the Jam, Black Sabbath of course, or Grand Funk Railroad, or even Walter Brennan. And you can hear all those influences and a million more in their sound, which changed remarkably from record to record. I think it was their willingness to incorporate all music, regardless of the so-called ‘genre’, that made them so great.

As far as musicians they influenced, that list is too long to mention. Let’s just say that Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Green River were all opening for THEM in the 1980s. Jane’s Addiction and Dinosaur Jr are among those they’ve influenced as well. There are very few bands of any importance in the 80s who were not anxiously awaiting the next Butthole Surfers record. Pretty much any band that was incorporating the freak power mentality of the 1960s into the realm of punk rock owes their debt, in part or in full, to the Butthole Surfers. Period.

Q: The Butthole Surfers live shows were legendary. What made them so remarkable?

photo 1982 Dixon Edge Coulbourn

photo 1982 Dixon Edge Coulbourn

Butthole Surfers concerts were completely lawless. People forget what it was like in the 1980s. Edwin Meese, the PMRC, Jerry Falwell; the FCC overreach into content; the Mapplethorpe/National Endowment of the Arts debate. The whole Reagan administration had been bent on suppressing any views that didn’t fit into the conservative Christian values he prescribed to. Let’s not forget, Reagan sent troops into People’s Park to shoot protesters BEFORE Kent State—this was not a man to be trifled with. I think the song “U.S.S.A” really strikes at the heart of what was going on at the time so eloquently.

The Butthole Surfers’ shows sort of held up a mirror to society, without being overtly political. True freedom in a time of repression is dangerous to the powers that be, but no one would touch them. I don’t think Tipper Gore would want the Butthole Surfers dragged before Congress to debate whether their records were dangerous, which is what made the band that much more dangerous to their bogus family values.

Q: How did their notorious name originate? How did their name affect their marketability?

In that same vein, the band name prevented them from being mentioned in many newspapers and magazines, even on college radio. The FCC was fining college and commercial stations for indecency, and program directors were scared. I mean, even in 1996 they released a “clean” version of Electriclarryland with their name blocked out on the cover. Their name was probably the biggest obstacle to their success, early on. It wasn’t until grunge became popular that the majors would even THINK about being able to promote them.

The legend goes that they settled on the name after having a different name every day. They finally got a paid gig as the Butthole Surfers and figured it was a good omen. Not sure if they realized at the time how much grief it would cause them later on.

Q: How were you introduced to the Buttholes?

My pal Dafydd was buying records like mad, and he bought most everything on the Alternative Tentacles label. He brought over A Brown Reason to Live to my house in 1984 or so. I dug it, but it took a while for me to get fully into them. When their song “Moving to Florida” came out, my other pal Kevin and I used to crack up to it. But it wasn’t until I heard an interview on WNYU in 1987 that I was finally intrigued enough to go see them live. I did, and that was it. My 16-year-old straight-edge mind was completely blown. I was converted.

Q: Why did you decide to write the book? What was it like writing it? What kind of challenges did you face?

I was running the Anal Obsession, and just accumulating recordings and talking to a lot of former band members and their friends, mostly just looking to score more shows. Through that, a narrative started to develop. I started writing it about 5 years ago, and after about a year or so, started seriously seeking out interviews.

I knew that Chuck Young was trying to write a book about them and he was unable to pull it off, even though he was close friends with them! We had even chatted once about it long before I’d started writing. God bless Chuck… there is a special wing in heaven for him.

Anywho, Chuck’s inability to get it done makes my attempt even that much more presumptuous, but I think my LACK of attachments to the band actually HELPED. I didn’t get led on all the wild goose chases the band used to like to lead serious journalists on. Chuck had more fun in the process, but I got the information I needed to finish a book.

The biggest challenge was just that. The band was constantly goofing around and rarely gave a serious interview. I must have read hundreds of articles, piecing together stories and comparing show dates to time frames to come up with some semblance of the ‘truth’ and then, later on, interviewing folks to get the best recollections/corroborations. It took me five solid years of writing, and honestly about 25 years of collecting and research to complete. It was not a job for a sane and rational person.

Q: What was your most surprising discovery about BHS when researching the book?

I guess it was surprising that I actually got denied a couple of interviews because of the whole Touch & Go lawsuit thing. I’m kind of surprised that folks are still so hung up about it they wouldn’t even talk to me about the band.

I really feel that the band got short-changed in that whole thing, in more ways than just that they weren’t getting paid properly. It’s a real shame that the lawsuit remains their legacy in many ways.

Things are much different now. Bands rarely stay on the same indie record label for as long as the Buttholes did, but the precedent the lawsuit set was actually good for bands and their art. No label should own a band’s music hostage in perpetuity. Corey was making more per record than the members in the group. How is that fair?

So there’s that, and also just how dern<sic> nice and supportive so many people have been to me, and supportive of the project. A lot of folks have shown the love. I feel blessed to have met so many great artists and people over the course of writing it. It really is humbling.

Q: What is your favorite BHS anecdote? Your personal fondest BHS memory?

My fondest Butthole memory is still that 12/12/87 Ritz show, the one that got us onto the cover of Double Live. What a show that was, huh?!

Butthole Surfers Double Live, 1989

Butthole Surfers Double Live, 1989

Seriously, though, there is one thing that Teresa said to me which really stands out.

She says that the band had an unspoken code to not discuss what things “meant.” So many interviewers were asking them what their name meant, what their stage shows meant and what their songs were about. They would lead journalists on wild goose chases and such just to avoid having to place meaning behind everything they were doing.

That said, she mentioned that the song “Perry” is about everyone trying to find meaning behind it all. (”It’s about licking the shit off the floor…”)

Where and when will the book be sold?

The book just came out on August 27, and right now is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ll also be selling it direct through the CHEAP DRUGS RECORDS Facebook page within the next month or two.

Let’s Go To Hell by James Burns

Let’s Go To Hell by James Burns

Amazon linkLET’S GO TO HELL: SCATTERED MEMORIES OF THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS

Barnes & Noble link — LET’S GO TO HELL: SCATTERED MEMORIES OF THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS