Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Live Like A Cop, Die Like A Man

Fourth time to Italy, for those that missed me, and as you can see it can still use a little picking up, a Starbucks and a SuperTarget or two.  I have always called Italy the Land of the Shrug--maybe this, maybe that, maybe now, maybe later--but for some reason this trip I heard a lot of cries of "Silenzio!"  Even more so than I hear in America.  Perhaps it is all the talk about ISIS wanting to pester them but, frankly, I would leave these people TF alone.  Hard to hate on people that have my dream life--drinking wine, eating pizza, taking naps, reading comics, but then turning into badasses when needed (re:  Franco Nero, Anthony Steffen, Gianni Garko, Giuliano Gemma, Maurizio Merli, George Hilton, George Eastman, Terrence Hill, Bud Spencer, Tomas Milan, et al).

Vittorio De Sica 4 Lyfe

Every time I go to Italy, I see something different.  I'm walking along one day and see this plaque in the sidewalk.  It commemorates the site of the shooting of one of the greatest films of Italian cinema and in fact world cinema, and one of my faves as well, The Bicycle Thief.  The start of Italian Neorealism and part of my fertile imagination.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

I saw several film/TV crews while I was in Italy this time (sweet irony as back in Ohio, a spaghetti western I wrote, Calamity Jane's Revenge, was underway).  One I couldn't tell what they were doing, one seemed to be some sort of period piece, and one was some sort of comedic crowd scene.  Not to call my brothers out but it looked like there was some guerrilla filmmaking stuff going on, which naturally my trained b-movie I was drawn to.  And how it warmed my heart to turn on the TV went I hit the hotel and see a Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer movie on; almost as good as that time I caught For A Few Dollars More late at night, with Clint and Lee Van Cleef speaking Italian.

I Turn the Switch and Check the Number

Speaking of my people, I had my annual pilgrimage to the grave of Guglielmo Marconi, the father of radio. He is in the Basilica di Santa Croce alongside dudes like Galileo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli, who all have gigantic statues here while my brother had to make due with a lot less. But this is a significant upgrade over when I was here two years ago when his plaque looked like something you'd see in a pet cemetery.

The Return of Ringo

Every time I visit Italy I think of this place, my favorite to visit; it's the large fumetti and giallo market at the Piazza della Repubblica. I always enjoy strolling through here and finding unusual things.

Kill Baby Kill

Nothing much, just an eerie, crypt-lined passage leading to a pay toilet.  Ciao, everyone!  You can see all my past adventures in Italy here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

There's A Red House Over Yonder

A found footage movie I wrote, "Alone in the Ghost House," will be debuting Friday June 5 at 10 p.m. at the Englewood Cinema in Englewood, Ohio.  I wrote it so quickly, and it was produced so quickly, I keep forgetting that I worked on it.  And now here it is.  I didn't write a script per se as I did about a 30-page extended treatment with some dialogue and situations and a lot of plotting and character breakdowns.  Astoundingly, it is pretty much all in there, thanks to some good acting and improv work (and some hella editing).  Plenty of chills, even though I pretty much knew what was going to happen.  I think it's a cool entry in the found footage subgenre, but check it out for yourself.

Friday, May 22, 2015

That Time David Letterman Paid For My Wedding

David Letterman signed off this week, and a lot of people have weighed in on what he meant to people's lives.  But he changed mine in a real way.

David Letterman sponsors a scholarship in his name at mine and his alma mater, Ball State University, and way back in 1987 this scholarship was still in its infancy.

The Telecommunications students of today might not recognize the school I went to.  We played records on a carrier current radio station (my shift was called "Hotel Rock," and I signed off every Saturday night by playing "Living in the Past" by Jethro Tull), we had a black and white TV studio, we shot Super-8 film, we walked uphill in the snow.  One good thing was that there were a lot of  Letterman's old teachers still around, telling stories.

I wanted to win a scholarship, badly, but had seen some other's work and didn't think I could win on production value alone.  I decided to write a script, even though a script had never won a Letterman before.

I was heavily influenced by public radio at the time, listening to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings radio dramas on a big console television that also had a radio and record player.  So I wrote a radio drama called West Coast Campus, a highly fictionalized version of my time as a reporter for the Ball State Daily News, where my alter ego was cooler.

I wrote three thirty-minute episodes in longhand, then starting typing it up on a typewriter.  As the deadline for submissions loomed, I thought it wasn't enough, so I basically stayed up all night the night before it was due and wrote a fourth 30-page script directly into the typewriter.  At the time there was a typing center at the student union, so I went over there and paid a young woman $25 to type my synopsis for nine more episodes, basically a season's worth of shows.

I was running late, so I called the department secretary and begged her to wait until I got there to turn in my project, all 135 pages.  I jumped on my bicycle and pedaled to campus, making the deadline only because she waited for me.  She was a really nice woman who later died of cancer.

That spring I went to the gala announcement.  They showed clips of each entry, all video productions, and Letterman's lawyer and I think his mother was there.  When they got to mine, the program's MC and faculty liaison to Letterman said, "And we have this entry, a writing project," held up my bound pages and let it fall from his fingers to the podium with a hollow slap.  I could have sunk into the floor.

But I won a scholarship, the first writing project to ever win one, and because I was a smartass, when the others got up and thanked all kinds of people that helped them, I got up and thanked the Smith-Corona Typewriter Company and the inventor of White-Out, then sat back down quickly.

Back then, David Letterman wrote you a check.  They don't do that any more, probably because of me.  I took $1,000 dollars of it and bought a 1980 Mercury Monarch.  I took $1,000 of it and paid for my whole wedding.  The rest I spent on school.

You also got tickets to the Letterman show, if you wanted to go (also a Late Night sponge and collapsible cup and hat).  He was on NBC then and the same faculty member who let my project fall to the podium with a hollow thud simply gave me the phone number to Letterman's office.  I called and his assistant scheduled our VIP tickets.

My new wife and my brother and a girl he sort of picked up on the way left for New York during Spring Break 1988.  We stayed in Newark to save money and took the train to the World Trade Center.  We ate at Carnegie Deli and looked for Woody Allen.  We got a free carriage ride in the cold rain because the lady driving the carriage was heading home for the day and felt sorry for us.

Then we got to 30 Rock and saw a really long line.  I walked to the front and asked for the VIP line and the guy said in his most world-weary New York accent, "This IS the VIP line."

But we got in to the small, scruffy studio.  Isiah Thomas was on, and Terrence Trent D'Arby sang "Wishing Well."  Chris Elliot popped out of a hatch in the floor nearby.  Larry Bud Melman came out and talked.  Letterman sat there with a cigar during the commercial breaks.

Somewhere I have the hat but gave the sponge and cup to my brother-in-law.  I have a letter from Letterman somewhere as well, though I can't remember what is says.  But it was a memorable time in my life, and a point of conversation for a long time after.

Supposedly one day Ball State is going to put up a wall of all the Letterman winners.  Some people have seen my picture from that time, and think I have a mullet.  I didn't have a mullet, it was a shadow on the wall behind me.  But it looks like a mullet.

I always say it was my first paid writing gig.  I went a long time before getting paid again, with real life and family in between.  I sold my first screenplay in 1999 and have chewed along ever since.  But 1987 was an awful good year.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Live from the OK Corral

Melissa Walters was kind enough to allow me to use photos she took on the first day of shooting of "Calamity Jane's Revenge," a screenplay I wrote for director Henrique Couto (these are her real horses).  It's not a supernatural western, or comedy western, but an Old-School Spaghetti-Flavored Honest to God western.  And, for the first time, my parents expressed interest in seeing one of my movies, a win.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ride the Range All the Day Til the First Fading Light

Calamity Jane's Revenge, directed by Henrique Couto, starts shooting this weekend from my screenplay.  And people said trying to watch every movie with "Django" in the title would never amount to anything.  More news to come.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Bout To Get Jurassic On Some People

Some of my screenplays have been on some pretty windy roads--witness HELLSHOCKED (original title) to BLACK MASS to DEAD KNIGHT (with spliced in footage) to THE DA VINCI CURSE (in Japan) to ARMY OF WOLVES (more spliced in new footage)--so here' s the new JURASSIC PREY formerly known as MEATEATERS when it came out on Full Moon Streaming.  Happily this is getting DVD release as a mockbuster this summer, dinosaur puppetry intact.  A nice new trailer to boot.

Sunday, March 01, 2015


After fifteen years of screenwriting, and around ten movies released, I finally found one of my movies in the wild, at a video store in Richmond, Indiana.  A strange feeling.  A pretty eye-catching cover in that retro way.  Please let me know if you see it loose in society at

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Heard You On The Wireless Back in '52

Today a movie I wrote, AMITYVILLE DEATH HOUSE, is available at video stores, retail stores, Amazon, Netflix, bit torrent sites, Times Square bootlegs, Hong Kong market rips, out of the backs of panel vans, and outlets everywhere. If you see it in the wild, give me a shout.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On the Book Beat

I sort of knew going into 2014 I probably would not make it to 50 books this year; with both my kids getting married, and my grandson born on the first day of 2014, it was going to be a busy year.  But I have read 348 books in seven years, and that is nothing to sneeze at.  But per usual I will list my top reads of the year:

Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo

The Son by Jo Nesbo

Mapuche by Caryl Ferey

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored by Phillipe Georget

 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

I am changing it up this year, committing to reading only women writers in 2015 to see if I can become a better writer myself.  Check back in here to see how I'm doing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

On the Book Beat

My latest column for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference:

BOOK BEAT by John Oak Dalton
MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King
A disturbed young man plows into a line of people waiting on a job fair, and a dogged detective never catches him before heading into retirement; but when the young man begins to intrude in the retiree's life, he gets a second chance in Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes.
King has been dipping a toe into the mystery world lately, and I have been enjoying his new direction.  Unlike some of his other recent thriller attempts, like Joyland, this one contains no supernatural elements at all (perceived or real) and is probably closer styled to a summer blockbuster.
Although I thought some of the characterizations ran hot and cold, the story rockets on a relentless pace, with plenty of suspense and a nerve-racking conclusion that would play well on the big screen.
I think King's fans will enjoy this change of pace, as well as general mystery readers.
REALLY THE BLUES by Joseph Koenig
A jazz musician flees New Orleans under mysterious circumstances, and makes the mistake of landing in Paris during the Nazi Occupation in Joseph Koenig's wartime thriller Really the Blues.
Koenig has been an elusive figure in publishing, having written several different kinds of novels before seemingly disappearing for almost twenty years, emerging in 2012 with a very good hard-boiled noir, False Negative, which first got me interested in the author.
Now there's Really the Blues, where our reluctant protagonist would prefer to keep playing his music, but the Resistance, in various forms, keeps crossing his path, with the Nazis dead on their heels. 
This is a very engaging thriller that will have appeal to all kinds of readers.
A young boy is the sole survivor of what turns out to be a long, connected series of murders, and it's up to the dogged prosecutors and police (including one clever police dog) of the Uppsala law enforcement community to figure out what's going on in Asa Larsson's The Second Deadly Sin.
I am a big fan of Larsson's novels, set in rural Sweden and featuring lawyer Rebecka Martinsson, whose psyche is a little fragile after all that has transpired in her previous adventures.
Larsson writes rich, interesting characters, and depicts vibrant slices of life from her own homeland.  This sometimes stands in stark contrast to the violence and terror that bursts from the pages at unexpected intervals.
These are very solid mysteries, and recommended for those who want a change of venue in their stories.
THE SON by Jo Nesbo
The son of a rogue cop ends up in prison, strung out on heroin supplied through a mysterious source; but when he figures out his dad might have been framed, the machinery of revenge begins to run in Jo Nesbo's superior crime novel The Son.
For those in a post-Dragon Tattoo malaise,  I can't recommend anyone more than Jo Nesbo.  His Harry Hole novels, about a flawed police detective in Oslo, are all top-flight thrillers accessible to audiences foreign and domestic.
This is a stand-alone story but the equal of his other work, told at a breakneck pace and featuring nothing but flawed characters, on both sides of the law, throughout.
MAPUCHE by Caryl Ferey
In Argentina, a private eye and an artist (the Mapuche of the title, an indigenous person of Argentina) begin to look into the murder of a transvestite prostitute, but quickly find themselves immersed in the dark history of Argentinian politics in Caryl Ferey's grisly thriller from the World Noir line.
Mapuche is a rocketing thriller, with additional intrigue for anyone interested in the history and politics of Argentina and South America, or in political thrillers in general.  I found out to be a good read and a window into a culture I was not familiar with.
However, Mapuche comes with a warning for readers with a gentle constitution; there is a lot of gruesome torture, murder, and rape throughout, and thus can only be recommended to more mature readers.  Worthwhile to those of a receptive mindset.
An Indian taxi driver gets an unexpected fare when he picks up a fading Bollywood actress; and when she turns up dead the next day, the cab driver tries to solve the crime to prove his own innocence in A.X. Ahmad's The Last Taxi Ride.
Even though the reader might see the ending before our protagonist, the story hits all the right beats as well as being an interesting look at Indian culture, both in India as well as New York City, where the story largely takes place.
Along with some emotional baggage that plays out, our hero fortunately has a military background that helps him out of numerous scrapes involving unsympathetic police, remorseless gangsters, and backstabbing friends.
Recommended for those who would like a change of pace in their characters and situations.
LAST WINTER, WE PARTED by Fuminori Nakamura
A journalist with a hidden agenda intends to write a book about why a popular photographer burned two women to death, but gets more than he bargained for in Last Winter, We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura.
This skin-crawling noir is written in an interesting, fragmentary style which includes pieces of the journalist's novel as well as other accounts of the story told from various angles.  But it is loaded with creepy characters, where every man has a secret fetish and every woman is an evil temptress.
Nakamura's novel The Thief, which I earlier read and enjoyed, also showed the sweating, seeping underbelly of Tokyo, but the author turns it up a notch in this one.  A greasy palette of tastes from sex dolls to S&M to implied incest is on display.
I found it to be a good read, but for darker tastes.
A cop, out of steam in his career and in his marriage, finds himself galvanized to find an abducted tourist as the disturbed kidnapper continues a cat-and-mouse game in Philippe Georget's Summertime, All The Cats Are Bored.
Georget's first novel comes from the World Noir line, quickly becoming one of my favorite imprints with (mostly) hardboiled noir from around the world.
This novel takes place in the French Mediterranean town of Perpignan, and in addition to a solid mystery interested me in someday visiting this area.
For mystery readers looking for a change of pace, this novel has a decidedly European flavor, both in its dealings with police life as well as marriage.
I continue to be very satisfied with the World Noir line and will also look for Georget's next book.
THE MASTER OF KNOTS by Massimo Carlotto
The Alligator, an Italian sort-of criminal turned sort-of detective, and his knockaround pals try to help a client who is  involved in murderous games with an S&M group in Massimo Carlotto's The Master of Knots.
The author has had a colorful life of his own, and some of it has obviously seeped into his writing.  In this, the second novel I have read in this series, he and his old-school pals find themselves shocked at the world they uncover, including the sinister criminal of the title.  The reader too may be shocked by some of the plot developments, not for all tastes.
But center to the story is the relationships between the three detective friends.  My favorite character is Rossini, an aging, genteel strongarm with his own curious code of honor.  I could very easily see Rossini based on the Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni (as see in Big Deal on Madonna Street).  Their scenes are veined with humor.
Carlotto's world is full of dishonorable lawyers, crooked cops, and gangsters with hearts of gold.  I enjoy visiting this world, through the World Noir line.
BLACK SKIES by Arnaldur Indridason
Dogged but unremarkable Icelandic cop Sigurdur Óli reluctantly tries to help a friend being blackmailed with explicit photos, but quickly gets involved in a complex, murderous scheme in Arnaldur Indridason's Black Skies.
I am a huge fan of Indridason's police procedurals featuring flawed but insightful detective Erlendur (the first translated into English was Jar City) but this novel features a supporting character from the earlier novels, one of Erlendur's colleagues.  It is a change of pace in tone (including some lighter subplots), but still features much of Indridason's very solid storytelling.
I am always on the lookout for more of Indridason's writing.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Mo Scarewaves

Throwback poster for the Scarewaves DVD; how cool is this?  Very late 80s-early 90s.  Streeting in 2015.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our House is a Very Very Very Fine House

I seem to be lucky with movies that have "House" in the title in 2014.  Here's a trailer for "Alone in the Ghost House," a found footage movie I did with Henrique Couto.  I think it was a bit of an experiment for both of us.  I really wrote more of an extended outline--maybe 30 pages--with the spine of a story and bits of dialogue and characterization.  Henrique worked with a close group of actors and extrapolated it out from there.  I'm not sure if anyone knew how it would turn out, but the cut I saw of it is pretty dangalang scary.  Remember, it's called a "found footage" movie, not a "one guy survives and brings the tapes back" movie.

My return from exile has been pretty fruitful, in my opinion, with "Meateaters," "Haunted House on Sorority Row" and "Scarewaves" all coming out, and "Alone in the Ghose House" and "Amityville Death House" on the books for 2015 release.  A crazy time.

Until later you can catch me at

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I'm Not Sick But I'm Not Well, And I'm So Hot 'Cause I'm In Hell

I've been talking for a long while about a movie I did under nondisclosure, and here it finally is.  It's hard to believe, but this is Eric Roberts, Fred Olen Ray, Mark Polonia, a chick turning into a spider, some Amityville hocus-pocus, plus lil ol me. Check out the the teaser trailer here.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

We Three Kings

Friday night at the Scarewaves premiere with director Henrique Couto and fellow screenwriters Ira Gansler and Jeremy Biltz.  It was a big, enthusiastic crowd and some lunatics actually asked me to sign autographs.  I was happy with my segment and these guys did good too.  Streeting everywhere in America sometime in 2015.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Amos Satan's Horror Show

Hitting the big screen this Friday, September 26th at 10 p.m. at the Englewood Cinemas in Dayton, Ohio.  I will be at the front of a long line of autograph seekers.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Thought He Passed His Own Shadow, By The Backstage Door

New reader George writes,

Hi, I'm 19, Irish, and trying to be a scriptwriter. know any submission points?

Hmmm, I would say work up one or two spec scripts based on what you would like to write. Then focus on nurturing relationships and sees what evolves.

It's tricky in my world (b movies) because a lot of people write their own scripts. Also a lot of people get burned so it takes a long time to build trust and relationships (probably also true in A list movies, don't know).

Work on your craft, start to meet people through the internet or visiting conferences, etc.

I hope this helps.

Questions always welcome at

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Read On

Some old pals pinged me on an influential/memorable books meme. This isn't a favorite books list, but a list of books that have stayed with me.

My childhood, "Have Space Suit--Will Travel" by Robert Heinlein and "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle.

My teen years, "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller, "Slaughterhouse-FIve" by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and "Vengeance is Mine" by Mickey Spillane.

College years, "A Bend in the River" by V.S. Naipaul and "Germinal" by Emile Zola.

Adult life, "The Heat's On" by Chester B. Himes, "Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand" by Samuel R. Delany, and "Valis" by Philip K. Dick.

I might have a slightly different list another day, but it's a good place to start.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How Years Ago, In Days Of Old, When Magic Filled The Air

Since I sadly had to miss the Blue Whiskey Film Festival this year for the first time ever, I decided I would do a little road trip for myself to take its place, and ended up at GenCon for the first time in about ten years. 

The best new thing was all of the food trucks along Georgia Street.  Ate there all the time.

The best old thing was the paint and take miniatures.  I don't play miniatures much any more, but still painted one.

The first five dollars I spent (not the last).

My friend Jon Solita got me hooked on the auction, where crazy stuff like this was.

Lots of celebrity sightings.  Crazed musician Andy D, who played at GenCon; The Angry DM, who I tried to thank for including me in a pickup game of "Kobolds Ate My Baby" with a bro hug, and almost got punched in the face; my pal Andy Britt, who was some video game character I don't know but other people dug; my old microcinema pals Jon Solita and Jay Neander; Blue Whiskey's Mike Noens, who was screening his film "Brightside" in the GenCon Film Fest; b-movie dude Rob Merickel; and Wil Wheaton, just chillin TFO and playing D&D with everybody else.  Plus my brother Eric, who took some of these pics.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

I'm Just Looking for Clues at the Scene of the Crime

Sharknado 2 is loose upon the world, and--I'll say it--the world is better for it.

I watched a shark movie marathon on SyFy leading up to it, and as a result found this interview with screenwriter Jose Prendes.  It did make me a bit melancholy how the AV Club spoke to Jose Prendes (in full disclosure, I don't know him).  It reminds me of the time an interviewer asked me what was the worst movie ever made.  Does my spiritual guide Michael Tolkin get asked this?  (Answer:  probably not.  Also, Michael Tolkin once wrote an email to me that I treasure.)(PS I answered Triumph of the Will.)

It makes me mad people say all the SyFy movies are automatically "bad."  There are some that are lazy, some that are cynical, some where people are cashing checks, but that is all movies.  The SyFy ones where the people behind the scenes are fans as well differentiate themselves.  And the fans can sniff out honesty vs cynicism, as I have said before.  Do you think Sharknado director Anthony Ferrante (disclosure:  we are FB friends) was serious when he had a guy get swallowed by a shark and chainsaw his way out?  He did it because he is a fan, and made it for fans.

I think people mix up "bad" and "cheap."  You know what movies are really bad?  All the Transformers movies, both GI Joe movies, both Thor movies, the first Hulk movie, Pacific Rim, Battleship, on and on and on.  They just look better.  If you put the screenplays side by side, with no money attached, they are no smarter than the cheaper SyFy movies.

I had somebody once tell me that if they couldn't get a "real" movie made, they would just whip out a few quick b-movies.  The truth is, people work just as hard making b-movies.  I challenge anyone who thinks it is easy to make a b-movie to try and produce one.  And then, if you can get that far, get somebody to distribute it.  I have sold (I think about) 25 scripts in the last 15 years, and my ninth movie is coming out in September.  I think that is a very high batting average for screenwriting, and I think many would agree.

Same with acting.  Is there anyone worse than Megan Fox in Transformers?  I think Sarah Lieving in Super Shark and Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus is much better, and probably got paid Transformer's coffee money.  I think Danielle Donahue in Meateaters and Joni Durian in Haunted House on Sorority Row are better than Sarah Lieving, and probably got paid Super Shark's coffee money (in full disclosure, I wrote but did not cast both of these).

This really isn't written to fans.  As I have said, fans can smell intent, and they are loyal if you are one of them.  Those are the people that keep me going.

Until later I am at