2019 WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR. From an amazing Muse concert to Horror and Pinball conventions and High School Marching Band competitions, it was action-packed. And, for the first time in my writing career, something I wrote appeared on TV (how cool is that?)
At the start of December, V Wars launched on Netflix and included two characters – Danika and Mila Dubov – and adaptations of the stories that I wrote about them in the original V-Wars books. I had known that V-Wars was in production since last year, but I didn’t realize that my characters were going to be used until May, when I happened to be looking up the series online to see when it was going to finally launch. Seeing my characters’ names in the main cast list was a huge (and welcome) shock.
I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t one of the highlights of my year!
In June, my 11th novel, The Devil’s Equinox, was released by Flame Tree Press and since then has received pretty good reviews. Readers have called it “Devilish fun” and “nail-bitingly suspenseful.” I’ve been working on my next project ever since that released, and this month I wrapped up a draft on my 12th novel, Voodoo Heart, scheduled for release in October 2020.
In the fall, a new story, “The Cemetery Man,” was released in the much-acclaimed Midnight in the Graveyard anthology from Silver Shamrock Press. I penned a couple other short stories this year as well, though they haven’t been released yet.
In June, a Polish edition of my fifth novel, Siren, was translated and released as Syrena in Poland by Phantom Books, which is super cool… that’s the sixth book I’ve had released by four different presses there… and NightWhere is slated to follow from Phantom this month. Here’s a cool YouTube review of Syrena:
So… it was a pretty good year in the world of writing for me.
On the Concert Trail…
This year was also a pretty good year for music. Shaun and I went to see the Muse concert in Chicago in April. I’ve always liked Muse but I’d never seen them live, or really felt the need. They seemed like an album band – great for the stereo, but not someone I had to see in concert. But Shaun has totally gotten into them over the past year, so I bought tickets.
I’ve seen hundreds of other concerts over the years, but these guys unexpectedly blew me away – the Simulation Theory tour was definitely one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Here’s a short video I shot of one of the songs. There are a bunch of others on my YouTube Channel.
And there were some other noteworthy shows this year too. I saw Brandi Carlile in June, hot off her Grammy Awards win, and Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin in October — where I got the chance to meet Claudio himself – one of my keyboard idols.
It wasn’t a “concert” per se, but Geri and I also got the chance to see John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus do a spoken word “retrospective” show in Chicago, along with Brian Pinkerton and his wife.
Over our Christmas break, Shaun and Geri and I got to see two shows — the Gin Blossoms (who we’ve seen a couple times before) and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who I’ve wanted to see for years because I was a huge fan of Savatage, (TSO is really an offshoot of Savatage). They put on an amazing pyrotechnic show, and even slipped in a couple Savatage songs, which totally made my day.
From Rock to Marching Band
While we saw some memorable shows, for the first time in my life, I saw a lot more Marching Band music this year than Rock Concerts. Shaun graduated 8th grade in the spring and almost immediately started working on Naperville Central High School Marching Band over the summer.
He plays marimba with the band, and Geri and I volunteered to help with the prop crew. That meant lots of weekends spent pushing heavy wooden “clouds” on and off football fields all around suburban Chicago, to accent their show, Cloud 9.
They won a bunch of awards over the season, which culminated in a road trip to the Bands of America competition in Indianapolis at the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium…Where it was pouring rain the whole time we put together the props in the parking lot.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so wet and cold! But it was worth it to see the kids perform in that huge venue in front of thousands of people. And, hell… I got to walk a cloud onto the (thankfully enclosed) field.
There was also another point in the season, where they performed at a competition and it was super windy… and since they were concerned about the props moving or falling over during the show, several of us parents acted as “human sandbags” to keep the wooden clouds in place on the field during the show. Not a position I ever expected to find myself in.
But… it did give me the chance to shoot some cool “on-the-field” perspective video of the band in motion as I hunched behind a 10-foot long wooden cloud:
At the end of the season, Shaun got awarded Marching Band “Freshman of the Year” and then promptly auditioned his way into the high school Jazz Studio Orchestra, which took us almost immediately down to the University of Chicago – the group had a concert there less than two weeks after he joined.
Plus, he also auditioned and landed a role in next spring’s NCHS Drum Show, a production we’ve paid to see for years and something he’s wanted to do since before Junior High… so… the band music life is here to stay!
This year was a great year for horror conventions. W. D. Gagliani, Dave Benton and Brian Pinkerton and I all converged on a northern Illinois SF/F/H con called Capricon at the start of the year, which was a blast. There’s nothing better than hanging out with those guys.
At the end of July, I had a booth at Flashback Weekend as always, and had a blast with my friends Jerry and Don from Synapse Films, as well as my friend Lon, who got a booth there for the first time himself and joined Shaun and I for our traditional “end-of-con” dinner at Hofbrauhaus.
Just a few weeks later I drove down to Indianapolis for Horrorhound Weekend, the other horror convention I have a booth at every year. This year, thanks to Shaun’s “touring schedule” with the marching band, he and Geri couldn’t join me, but I still had a great time with Jerry, Don, Lon and our former neighbors Diane and Troy.
The con moved from a hotel to the Indianapolis Convention Center for the first time this year, so it was a big transition. It went well, though I have to say I missed the old “intimacy” of the hotel ballrooms we’ve been in in the past.
The highlight for me this year was meeting 60s horror film queen Barbara Steele.
In the fall, I was part of the Oswego Library Literary Festival and the Naperville Library Local Authors Festival. I also did booksignings for The Devil’s Equinox at the Barnes & Noble stores in Naperville and Orland Park, IL.
And Brian Pinkerton joined me for a Halloween-week signing/reading at Bucket O’ Blood Books & Records in Chicago. Just a few weeks later, Brian and I went back to Bucket O’ Blood for a signing by Bill Gagliani and Dave Benton.
This was the first year in a while that I didn’t buy a classic pinball machine to join the collection in my basement, but I did have some memorable silver ball events nevertheless.
In March, I went to Las Vegas for work and while I was there, I got the chance to visit the Pinball Museum there and played dozens of games that night. The next night while still in Vegas for my birthday, I went to see the Zombie Burlesque show which I’d seen a few years ago. It’s a hilarious production if you ever get the chance!
In April, Shaun and I drove out to Kalamazoo for the Pinball at the Zoo Convention (an annual Spring tradition for us) and enjoyed a lot of game play, as well as a couple great dinners with our pin-friends at Bell’s Brewery’s Eccentric Cafe and the Arcadia Ales taphouse.
We stopped a couple times this year locally at the new Galloping Ghost pinball arcade, where I confirmed my love of the Elvira and the Party Monsters machine (I’ve spent hours on that table there!)
All that prepped us for our fall pinball convention, Pinball Expo in Wheeling, where, this year, they were debuting the new (and third) Elvira themed table, Elvira’s House of Horrors. I spent the most time at this year’s Expo than ever before (I’d never attended on Thursday before, just Friday-Saturday). And I still could have played more!
Elvira herself (Cassandra Peterson) was there in person, so I got a picture and autograph with her (how could I not?)
I also picked up a cool bit of “pinball trivia” art at the show. The artist who created the recent Batman 66 game created an art piece for a potential Beetlejuice pinball game. While nobody has picked up on the them for production, someone licensed the art from him for a limited edition backlight. Being a fan of Beetlejuice and pinball, I had to buy a signed edition for my basement. Now if someone would just be smart enough to make the game!
Birds and Loss
I’ve had birds as pets for most of my life now. This was a particularly difficult year for me there. Lem, a lutino cockatiel who has been with me for 30 years (way past normal lifespan) finally died — in my hands on a day I was working from home. That was hard to take, but she was very old, and it was not completely unexpected. We’d really been preparing for it for years.
What really hurt, was losing Pepper just a few weeks later. Pepper was a green Canary Winged Parakeet who was barely a year old when she died. She had been battling an undiagnosed internal issue for most of her life. I spent nights with her in our basement when I was sure she was going to die because she had pneumonia early in the year. She was in the “bird hospital” several times from January – June. Every time it seemed like she was getting better, two or three weeks later she began to decline again.
It was maddening, and the vet – despite many tests – never was able to diagnose her. I gave her vitamins and immune system boosters every day. She cuddled on my shoulder every minute I was in the house – in fact, if she knew I was in the house and wasn’t holding her, she’d call until I came to get her.
The loss of that demanding little voice when she finally died (like Lem, in my hands), has haunted me for the rest of the year. She was with me almost the least of all of my birds… and yet, has left the hardest hurt on my heart.
Films and Music
Somehow, this year I managed to see 134 films. That’s a record number compared to the previous five years since I’ve been tracking my movie watching. I have long been a fan of ’70s exploitation films, but this year, I finally discovered the Dolemite and Human Tornado films of Rudy Ray Moore (which I loved) just in time to enjoy the My Name Is Dolemite Eddie Murphy biopic on Moore a few months later.
I also have been an occasional fan of Westerns, and discovered the Italian Sartana films (in part, because they were what I watched with Pepper on nights when she was having breathing problems).
I rewatched a number of Guillermo Del Toro films, since I was on a Del Toro panel at Capricon, and also discovered the works and subsequently watched several films by directors Gorman Bechard, Ted U. Mikels, Rick Sloane and Andy Sidaris.
Modern films that I saw and loved included A Cure for Wellness, Knives Out, Yesterday, Green Book, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Crimson Peak.
While I saw some modern films, I continue to be drawn to ’70s films; 56 of the 134 movies I saw this year came from that decade, while 35 were from the ’80s.
Thematically, of my 134, around 50 were horror, while another 50 were arthouse/exploitation films of one style or another. And another batch were thrillers, sci-fi and westerns.
My favorite ’70s discoveries that I saw for the first time this year were Tiffany Jones, The Corruption of Chris Miller, Coffy, Thundercrack, Chatterbox, Shadows in an Empty Room and Young, Violent, Dangerous.
On the Music Front…
I discovered some great music in 2019. I continue to obsessively listen to DJ Mikey’s StrangewaysRadio mixes on MixCloud, which introduces me to a lot of one-off poppy singles and indie bands like Witch of the Vale, MisterWives, Kitten, Hatchie and Hanne Mjoen.
Keane put out a great comeback album this year with Cause and Effect (Shaun and I are looking forward to seeing them live in March!) And sadly, The Muffs released their final album, No Holiday, just two weeks after leader Kim Shattuck’s death from ALS.
This year was super busy, but we didn’t go too far afield. We couldn’t do a getaway family vacation since we had to spend thousands in our back yard in the spring replacing a fence and cutting out a giant old willow tree. (I also got stuck with lots of car repairs on my 15-year-old Mustang).
But we did take a short spring break day trip to see my old U of I College campus in Champaign-Urbana, and we went up to Milwaukee on another day trip to visit my nephew.
I was in Indianapolis three times between HorrorHound and Shaun’s band excursions. And in addition to Vegas, I had business trips to two of my favorite cities — New Orleans and San Diego. While in San Diego, I got to do a book signing for the first time in 10 years at Mysterious Galaxy and visit both Ballast Point and Stone Brewing. So that was a personally productive working trip. Here’s where I got to this year outside of Illinois:
- Las Vegas
- New Orleans
- San Diego
At the Dawn of a Decade…
And now… as I write this, the annual New Year’s Late Showing of The Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers on TV has ended and it’s past 2 a.m. Probably time to call it a night.
When you stop to think about it, it all really goes by too fast. It’s been a good year. I only hope that 2020 is even better.
P.S. Here’s hoping for a second season of V-Wars in 2020 so I can see what they do with my vampire sisters Danika and Mila!