MEET VERONA CASSIDY:

FILLE FATALE

Available on Amazon for Kindle and Print, my True Crime-inspired Young Adult novella UGLYVILLE documents the life of an eccentric teenaged girl who falls in love-at-first-sight with the neighborhood garbageman, only to learn he’s already taken. But that won’t stop her from stealing his heart for herself, by any means necessary.

And don’t forget my acclaimed Dark Comedy novel DEAD SIZE. Reviewers call it "a fantastic blend of detective story, dark comedy, and waking daydream” and “sick, twisted, and hilarious."

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. And coming soon, my expanded short story collection of Dark Fiction, featuring several works that have never been published or were only put out in limited release.

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

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Centralia: The Black Diamond of Columbia County!

Posted By on June 8, 2015

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The Hottest Tourist Spot in Central Pennsylvania

There are no welcome signs (excepting the town line markers) greeting visitors today to Centralia, PA, but there needn’t be any. Upon entering the historic coal mining borough, you can’t help feeling like you’ve stepped back into a bygone era, one that received all folks with a winsome smile, a fresh glass of sun tea, and one of those little American flags on a stick. Everywhere you look you see signs of what once was and what in many ways still is. It’s a place evoking a simpler time, the classic “small town” character that, by stubbornly clinging to its homespun roots, refuses to go extinct.

Indeed, many claim Centralia is on the brink of death, its slide to becoming a modern-day ghost town begun when its once-booming anthracite industry shut down in the 1960s. Yet adventurous visitors of all ages are treated to an abundance of hobbyist opportunities and captivating attractions there.

Nestled in the wooded hills of the Appalachian Mountains, Centralia (est. 1866) is centrally located in Columbia County, accessible via PA Route 61 where it intersects with Route 42. When I arrived there that sunshiny day, I didn’t even realize I was in the town, or any town. I must have driven through it three or four times before I found my bearings.

Church_resized_IMAG0255The first point of interest I visited—primarily because it’s the highest point of interest in the town, hence the easiest to spot—was the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church. Still operating after more than a century, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic house of worship is a towering white edifice topped with three Byzantine crosses set on azure blue domes.

The interior features an ornate, early 20th century, Italian-painted Iconostasis, gilded almost to excess, that will surely take your breath away. The grizzled groundskeeper I spoke with said it was like “somethin’ from a Roman art museum.” I couldn’t agree more.

Tombstone_resized_IMAG0268A short amble behind the church led me to its well-maintained cemetery, one of four in Centralia. The grounds exhibit magnificent sculpted tombstones, some dating as far back as the 1920s, with others far more recent. One cannot miss the irony: in a town whose population has dwindled dramatically (from more than 1,400 residents in 1960 to just 10 as of the 2010 U.S. Census), Centralia’s graveyards remain its lone parts that are still growing.

I pondered this while reclined on the final resting place of Helena Liptak (b. 1904 – d. 1927), smoking the Drew Estates Java cigar I had purchased from a Cigars International superstore (1635 Mountain Rd, Hamburg, PA) on the way there. I haven’t felt so peaceful in ages!

Next I explored random streets throughout the town. Even with Google Maps I was still quite lost, as most of Centralia’s roads no longer have their names posted. The majority of the homes once lining these streets had been leveled after they were vacated, replaced over the years by lush green flora. I imagine the land now makes for ideal camping areas, and I spied a few hiking trails heading deep into the verdure. Those who enjoy restoring old furniture may find a treasure trove of household décor discarded on the roadsides, or even an animal skull to add an outdoorsy touch to their den or office. There’s ample parking everywhere.

The hotbed of activity in Centralia centers around St. Ignatius Cemetery (which I had passed twice, mistakenly thinking the cars parked on the street in front belonged to mourners). The area serves as a prime location for offroad ATV and motorbike riding, offering many fun hilly trails for recreational motorists. Walking up the slope to the right of the cemetery, I was treated to spectacular tree- and windmill-lined vistas of the town, great for photographers of all stripes.

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I asked one high school student and plucky shutterbug, Courtney, what she thought most striking about Centralia. “It’s awesome,” she answered. “There are so many great pictures to take here!” If you’re fortunate, you can snap a shot of one of the scattered plumes of smoke occasionally billowing from the kindled rock beneath the town. (I was warned not to get too close to them should I encounter any, as they are very hot and unbreathable.) It was too windy to see any such vaporous displays the day I visited, though I could smell the sulfuric tang on the breeze. It reminded me of the cookouts I had as a child with my family and friends at my favorite park on Long Island.

I asked one high school student and plucky shutterbug, Courtney, what she thought most striking about Centralia. “It’s awesome,” she answered. “There are so many great pictures to take here!” If you’re fortunate, you can snap a shot of one of the scattered plumes of smoke occasionally billowing from the kindled rock beneath the town. (I was warned not to get too close to them should I encounter any, as they are very hot and unbreathable.) It was too windy to see any such vaporous displays the day I visited, though I could smell the sulfuric tang on the breeze. It reminded me of the cookouts I had as a child with my family and friends at my favorite park on Long Island.

crack_resized_IMAG0371The highlight of my Centralia experience was strolling along the attraction the town is famed for: its Graffiti Highway. Once part of Route 61, the mile-long stretch was permanently closed in 1994 due to severe fracturing. Since then, people have used the paved roadway as an artist’s canvas, spray-painting colorful pop culture homages, words of wisdom, and phantasmagorical designs across the length of it. (I noted skulls and phalluses to be recurring motifs.) It’s a remarkable communal project, showcasing the array of talent the region produces.

alien_resized_IMAG0373 “There’s a lot of funny, weirdass stuff on here,” said Mike, 22, a resident of nearby Pottsville “just hanging out” that day in Centralia. He pointed to an illustration of a smiling (or screaming) alien creature. “I did this one like two years ago,” Mike declared. Asking him why he had wanted to put his artwork on the road, he answered pithily, “It’s cool.” I contemplated someday returning here with paints to add my own cool image to the repurposed straightaway, perhaps of a clown puffing on a cigar, the tattoo I never had the courage to get. Graffiti Highway is an appealing and equally enduring alternative for it.

Centralia-related things to do don’t end at Centralia’s city limits. The neighboring town of Ashland presents the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine (2001 Walnut Street, Ashland, PA), a dark and dank trip in an authentic mine car that transports passengers a third of a mile into the side of Mahanoy Mountain. Not only are you able to experience what it was like to extract coal as they once had in Centralia’s abandoned mines, you also learn about Centralia’s mining history in vivid detail, courtesy of the knowledgeable tour guides, as well as a bulletin board outside the mine entrance (for those who choose not to pay the tour admission fee). For a ride of a different sort, drive over to Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg (391 Knoebels Blvd, Elysburg, PA) and hop on the Black Diamond, a steel roller coaster that plunges you inside a three-story haunted coal mine complete with a road sign reading “Centralia.” It’s a spooky tribute to a place where one still senses the spirit of its past in the air, a spirit that still says to every visitor:

COME BACK SOON!

UGLYVILLE: Writing an Untypical YA Book

Posted By on May 26, 2015

My new novella UGLYVILLE has just been released, and, like my debut novel DEAD SIZE, I once again can’t really tell you who the audience is for it.

I describe it as a True Crime-inspired (it’s presented as nonfiction, in diary form) Young Adult book. But I didn’t consider it a YA story as I was writing it. It falls into that very broad category because its first person narrator Verona Cassidy is a fifteen-year-old girl.

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The reader, however, quickly discovers that her character is mentally unbalanced and emotionally unstable, hence her often melodramatic journal entries are rather unreliable (at least as far as her perception of events is concerned).

The majority of YA books I’ve come across are fantasy, paranormal, coming-of-age, and romance. I suppose UGLYVILLE could be labelled a coming-of-age romance… about a budding sociopath. The story, while not gory or graphic, has a very dark streak running through its theatrical demonstrations of obsessive passion. I think the book would be better approached as the self-portrait of a disturbed, criminally-developing mind. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS this is not.

So then, what kind of reader will enjoy UGLYVILLE?

Those who appreciate unconventional storytelling, being immersed in the morally-skewed, mono-view world of a damaged and disreputable individual. Verona Cassidy is a case study in abnormal psychology; UGLYVILLE serves as its supporting documentation.

Sawney’s Top 10 Favorite Films of All Time

Posted By on May 15, 2015

As a lifelong movie buff, choosing my top 10 favorite films was really, really, really difficult. I gave myself some rules: no honorable mentions and I had to pick films that stand on their own, not because I love the director’s oeuvre. That means the work of several of my favorite filmmakers surprisingly didn’t make the list: Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, Steven Spielberg, Arthur Penn, Ridley Scott, et al.

Those films that did make the list represent the ones that have in some way had the greatest influence on me. They’re also films I never tire of watching and studying.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — My vote for the greatest western ever made, Sergio Leone’s sweeping, sprawling epic features three of the most indelible characters ever committed to celluloid, and a legendary soundtrack.

Brazil — Monty Python member Terry Gilliam is a true visionary, and this drolly dark film is perhaps his most imaginative work. At the risk of being blasphemous, I think I prefer the final U.S. cut to the European. Either version, it’s a must-see.

Blue Velvet — David Lynch struck a deal to make this if he directed Dune. He’s one hell of a shrewd negotiator. This film is funny and freaky, beautiful and brutal. Probably Dennis Hopper’s most iconic role.

Bliss (1985) — Not too many people know of or appreciate this Australian gem by Ray Lawrence, adapted from Peter Carey’s novel. It’s a delightfully surreal film where I see something new every time I view it. Give it a try.

Lawrence of Arabia — Watching the restored 70mm print of David Lean’s epic on the big screen was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Great storytelling, and gorgeous in every way. Just perfect.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — Actor Jack Nicholson at his best, director Milos Forman at his finest, and a supporting cast of familiar faces (Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, et al), I’ve met only one person in my life who told me they hated this film. We haven’t spoken since.

A Clockwork Orange — Kubrick’s still controversial, ultra violent and ultra cool window into the (near?) future features so much imagery that sticks in my brain to this day. A tour de force of style.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God — A deliberately paced spectacle from German filmmaker Werner Herzog, starring a spectacular Klaus Kinski as a Spanish conquistador going mad searching for El Dorado, this is breathtaking cinema.

Straw Dogs (1971) — Sam Peckinpah’s savage examination of the human capacity for violence, and what drives them to it, is intense, visceral filmmaking. The last 20 minutes still pack a punch. Make that several punches.

Local Hero — I left this one off my Top 10 Favorite Comedies list so I could put it here. Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth’s film defines ‘quirky.’ The characters of its charming village feel real despite (or perhaps because of) their eccentricities. Yeah, I could live there.

Sawney’s Top 10 Favorite Horror Films (Easter Edition)

Posted By on April 5, 2015

In observance of the second scariest holiday of the year, here are my 10+ favorite Horror movies. This is by no means an exhaustive list — I was weaned on horror fare — but these films represent the ones that left the greatest impact (and some scars) on me:

The Shining

Alien

Re-Animator

Jaws

The Thing (1982)

The Wicker Man (1973)

Phantasm

Psycho

Santa Sangre

Horror Express

Horrifying Mentions: The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Peeping Tom, MartinEvil Dead 2, Basket CaseCurse of the Demon, An American Werewolf in London

Sawney’s Top 10 Favorite Comedy Films

Posted By on March 8, 2015

Since I haven’t posted anything on this site in a while, and I am quite fond of lists, I decided to share my ten favorite comedic movies. There are many I regretfully had to omit, but these represent the films that made the most rib-tickling impression on me, in no particular order and subject to change at my whim:

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Time Bandits

This Is Spinal Tap

Duck Soup

Young Frankenstein

Rushmore

Harold and Maude

M*A*S*H

The Blues Brothers

Greaser’s Palace

Honorable Mentions: too numerous to mention

Note: I am a big Monty Python fan, have been for years, but they get enough accolades. They would just end up using their ranking here as a coaster or doorstop.