MEET VERONA CASSIDY:

FILLE FATALE

My True Crime-inspired Young Adult novella UGLYVILLE is now available on Amazon for Kindle and Print! An eccentric teenaged girl 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, my “sharp-witted” Short Story collection DARK SPACES and my brand new conte cruel-esque Kindle short "THE DARK AT THE DEEP END."

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

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ADULT VIDEO

Posted By on July 8, 2015

Ah, memories! Here’s a personal anecdote about some small town sordidness:

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I remember when I first saw it. I was coming home on the LIRR after visiting a friend at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. It was a newly opened business, the first storefront returning commuters saw when pulling up to the Merrick train station. I remember other passengers pointing it out. The store stuck out like a bad tattoo on perfect skin.

Merrick was, and still is, a conservative town. Located on the south shore of Long Island, it is home to primarily middle to upper middle class nuclear families. Its Jewish and Christian houses of worship are well attended. Its PTAs carry a good deal of clout. At the time (the late 80s), the county executive, a Republican, lived there. The town’s roads and utilities were well maintained year round, its police and firefighter departments well funded.

Merrick was for the most part the ideal idyllic suburbia, which was why it was such a shock when the adult video store opened on Sunrise Highway.

It wasn’t even one of those classier erotic boutiques one might expect for such a neighborhood. Its front windows were covered with silver aluminum foil, its entrance door curtained by long strands of gold tinsel. Its sign simply read ADULT VIDEO in blocky red letters over a stark white background.

I didn’t know what to feel about it. Such a place appearing in my hometown was surprising, but I wasn’t appalled. Then again, I was a rebellious, anti-censorship, morality-flouting teenager who was not especially worried about the negative effect on property values. But I knew many who feared the store would attract a “bad element.”

This was not the first instance of a porno establishment popping up here and outraging our largely unsuspecting residents. Several years prior, the town’s single-screen movie theater, located on Merrick Avenue, changed management and started showing exclusively X-rated fare. (Caligula and Jack and Jill are two titles I recall playing there.) The venue abruptly shut down about a month later, meriting a front-page article in the Merrick Life newspaper featuring a prominent photo of the theater’s offending marquee.

Fascinated with all things decadent, depraved, and debauched, I naturally paid a visit to ADULT VIDEO — that was the business’s licensed name — to see what all the fuss was about. Its selection consisted of over two hundred VHS tapes spread out across several white plywood shelves. In fact, aside from the video boxes, everything in the store was white, from the tiled floor to the fluorescent lighting. I speculated this was to make the space look more antiseptic, i.e. less dirty, to browsing customers. It only succeeded in accentuating the full-color images of exposed and manipulated private parts.

I met the store’s proprietor. He was the only one who worked there. His name eludes me, but his face does not. It was covered in small bulbous growths, like warts or polyps. His hair was jet black and greasy-looking. His smile was crooked, as were his teeth. But he was astonishingly articulate and passionate about what he believed to be a constitutional, if not fundamental, human right: the freedom of expression. He had the right to sell/rent adult material, and adults had the right to view it. And, according to him, many Merrick residents agreed; within two weeks of the shop’s opening more than one hundred of them had signed up for memberships.

But many others were less than thrilled with the vendor of vice.

A priest from Sacred Heart Catholic Church and a rabbi from Temple Israel had each dropped by to convince the owner that Merrick was no place for his place. He respectfully begged to differ. He felt he was, in a way, performing a public service, was contributing to the town’s economy, and he wasn’t hurting anyone, morality excluded. I agreed and signed up for a membership, more out of tacit support than prurient interest. (I never rented anything from him. Really. I swear.)

A few days later somebody drove by the store in the middle of the night and threw a brick through its window. The next morning the owner, unfazed, boarded it up and opened his door at the usual time. I got the impression ours wasn’t the first conservative town he had tried to plant stakes in. (I found out he had previously opened the same kind of store in at least three other Long Island communities.)

I learned about an “emergency meeting” town officials had called together at Old Mill Road elementary school. I managed to finagle my way in under the pretense I was writing an article for the local paper. Most of Merrick’s municipal leaders were there, including the aforementioned priest and rabbi, every representative of the Chamber of Commerce, and the property owner who — allegedly — unwittingly leased the space to ADULT VIDEO.

It was a rather surreal experience for me, by far the youngest person in the room. They first tackled legalities. No laws had yet been enacted in Merrick banning adults-only establishments, only those specifying the distance they may operate from schools and churches (500 feet). The following topic of discussion was just how pornographic was the store’s pornography. It amused me to hear these dignified town officials, both men and women, utter such terms as “full penetration” and “bestiality.” One attendee even corrected my pronunciation of the latter word after I’d chimed in on the matter. All of course agreed ADULT VIDEO had to go. Not one conservative voice spoke up for this small business.

How to get rid of it was still undetermined at the meeting’s adjournment, but I sensed an ominous, conspiratorial vibe in the air. I suspected there would soon be another, more clandestine dialogue between the town’s bureaucrats.

Just one week later ADULT VIDEO had shuttered up overnight, the proprietor taking all his wicked wares and minimalist sign with him. I didn’t have his contact info, so to get the scoop I drove over to the computer repair store I knew to be operated by the property’s lessor. He was a short, sweaty man wearing a yarmulke that didn’t sit on his head quite right.

He remembered me from the emergency meeting and promptly expressed his triumph at running the “smut peddler” out of our decent town.

I asked him if the town had paid the guy off.

“No comment,” he said and gave me a sly grin.

Indeed, no one talked about ADULT VIDEO after its welcome departure. The closure wasn’t even mentioned in Merrick Life. It was as if it never happened, a nasty pimple completely healed. The space was next rented by a popular yogurt shop where folks, both righteous and reprobate, could fatten themselves up to their heart’s content.

To this day I wonder which business posed the more harm to body and soul.

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