MY SECOND BOOK ever released (back in 2003!) was Vigilantes of Love, a collection that includes horror tales, but also some of my lighter, more heartstring-pulling stories. Originally released on Chicago’s Twilight Tales imprint, it eventually went out of print with the dissolution of Twilight Tales until I got the rights back a couple years ago and released an updated version of my Dark Arts Books label.
Vigilantes of Love has some of my favorite stories to read aloud to an audience. I can’t count how many places I’ve read “The Right Instrument” at libraries, conventions and other events over the years, and “After the Fifth Step” has also been a very popular live reading story. It also includes “Lovesong,” a finalist in the World Horror Convention fiction contest and “Calling of the Moon” which garnered an honorable mention in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror anthology back when it was released. And it includes “Preserve,” one of the first stories I ever had accepted and published in a genre magazine.
It’s one of my oldest titles, but right now, Vigilantes of Love is sitting at #3 on the Amazon Kindle e-book charts for Horror Anthologies. And it’s damned close to breaking into the Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Anthologies Chart too!
Why now, you ask? On Sunday, Vigilantes of Love went on a Kindle Countdown Sale for just 99 cents… and thanks to the sale and a lot of Facebook announcements and promotional newsletter mentions, it hit the Top 5 of the Horror ebook charts on Amazon yesterday – It is currently sitting at #3 in Literature & Fiction/Anthologies/Horror. E-newsletters like EReader News Today, Free Kindle Books & Tips, BookSCREAM, Read Cheaply, Booktastik, BookGoodies, Booklovers Heaven, The Fussy Librarian and 13 Horror Street have all announced the sale over the last 72 hours.
If you’ve never read Vigilantes of Love, I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy this week while it’s just a buck. And if you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, I hope you’ll help me spread the word about the special sale by putting a link to it on your Facebook wall or Twitter feed. The link to Amazon is here: http://www.amazon.com/Vigilantes-Love-Tales-Dark-Light-ebook/dp/B004FEFAIY/
I’m hoping to keep the book’s momentum going for the rest of the week… and beyond the sale!
Here, by the way, is how BookGoodies promoted it on Sunday to kick off the sale. They also have posted a short interview with me, if you’re interested in reading it:
A LOT OF PEOPLE have asked me if I’m going to write a sequel to my sixth novel, NightWhere. I do want to eventually… I’ve always been interested in exploring the character of Selena more. But, that’s not what I’m currently working on. Never enough time to write all the stories I’d like to!
I did, however, write a long “side story” set in the world of the novel awhile ago that has at last come out in the new issue (#30) of Dark Discoveries Magazine! The new novelette is called “Feeding the Field of Flesh,” and it finds a P.I. lured into trying to rescue someone from the dark world of NightWhere.
This issue also includes fiction from Ray Garton, Cecilia Tan, Scott Edelman and many more.
Check it out here: http://journal-store.com/fiction/dark-discoveries-issue-30/
THIS WEEK, Amazon has my short fiction collection Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions on a Kindle Countdown Deal. The book will be $0.99 cents (or £0.99 in the UK) until Thursday. I’ve always been proud of this book… it was my very first! Longtime indie horror fans will recall that this was one of the first hardcover releasess from Delirium Books almost 15 years ago. Reviewers have called it: “Sexy, Disturbing, Brilliant!” and “…a dark and tantalizing show well worth the price of admission.”
It focuses largely on my erotic horror short stories… so it’s perfect Valentine’s Reading … for horror fans!
Get it while it’s cheap here:
Here’s the Amazon description:
Meet a witch who conjures genital dragons while singing Manilow. A woman who provides a true window to her soul. And a real cage of bones! Not to mention “Pumpkin Head,” a dark tale of jack-o-lanterns…and the dangers of Halloween lusts…
ANYONE WHO follows me on Facebook or reads by blog frequently knows that my dayjob sends me on a lot of business trips. I’m working most of the time on these jaunts, but I am privileged to see different locales, even if only for short dinner outings outside the hotels.
I’ve been to lots of typical cities (L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, New York) and some exotic outings (Kauai, Chile, Germany). But one of the most picturesque was last week’s trip to Paradise Island, Bahamas. We were at the Atlantis Resort, which takes up a third of the island and is like a giant water park – there are swimming pools and lazy river routes and slides everywhere, not to mention small outdoor pools with dolphins, manta rays, sharks and more all around the grounds.
It was funny because over the past few days since I returned, I keep seeing TV ads for the resort and pointing and going “hey, I was just walking there…”) Considering the resort was surrounded by beach, and I’m pretty much an ocean junkie, I was really looking forward to getting a few dips in the saltwater… but unfortunately, the winter storm that was killing the northeast also sent some gloom and cool breezes to the Bahamas… so while being there was a whole lot better there than it was in Chicago, I didn’t get in the water much. I did get out a couple times, and swam with some damsels and wrasses and other fish near the shore. And I had some good dinners — and also the most outrageously overpriced dinners I think I’ve ever had.
My first night there, I walked a ways to find a reasonable restaurant, only to find it closed… and so, since I was starving after a 10-hour travel day, I ended up at the Seafire Steakhouse, having perhaps the most expensive steak dinner I’ve ever eaten (and it was the cheapest on the steakhouse’s menu!)
I quickly learned that night and in the following days that there are no IPA’s imported to the Bahamas… everything there is light pilsner beer (Corona, Bud) and most is brewed by the Bahamian Brewery (except Kalik, probably the most popular beer there). There is one amber ale brewed by Bahamian specifically for Atlantis, which is drinkable, but other than that… I wasn’t too excited by the omnipresent Sands, High Rock and Bush Crack beer, though you gotta like the name on that last one.
On the 2nd night of my trip I found that even 4-star hotels in the tropics can’t keep all the nasties out… I found this lil bugger sniffing my dirty laundry in the hotel closet. A bug perve!
He met his untimely end at my hand thanks to a dry cleaning sign that happened to be handy in same closet, after running up and down the walls a time or two. His little feelers were still twitching, so I brained him with cake of soap and then collected him on the cardboard of a soap box and left his nosy carcass in the hallway… a warning to other tenants: Paradise is not bereft of cockroaches!
After having a late lunch of conch salad and a couple beers that cost $50, I decided to try to find some more affordable food and have dinner in Nassau.
The only problem was… the hotel didn’t offer shuttle service to the larger island, and I wasn’t keen on cabbing it. At least not both ways. So… I put on my walking sandals and began my one big adventure of the week.
The Cricket Club wasn’t much to look at, but it did sit overlooking a cricket field and they served my beloved Newcastle! The only good beer I had on my trip!
I eschewed the Bangers and Mash for a local plate of barbecue chicken, beans ‘n’ rice, plantains and cole slaw. It cost 1/3 the price that it would have across the bridge and was one of the best meals I had there.
The start of karaoke night at the Cricket Club put an end to my writing night, and I headed out across the street to the “Fish Fry” district of restaurants. They looked fun – lots of fish fry shacks along the ocean. But I didn’t have a chance to get back there over the next few days. I also didn’t walk the 5 miles back across the bridge; I broke down and caught a cab.
One big downside of this particular trip was that it was held over the same week as the Cub Scouts’ annual Pinewood Derby. Shaun and I built his car before I left, but I was bummed I couldn’t be there to see the race.
Still, he continued his streak of winning “Creative” awards for his Pinewood Derby Car. This was the 4th “video game” car I’ve helped him build for the Derby (following Angry Birds, Minecraft and Dragonvale) and while we’ve never built the fastest cars… they hold their own. On Jan. 23rd he placed 2nd, 2nd, 2nd!
I was on Paradise Island for a solid week – Tuesday to Tuesday – but the days flew by pretty quickly, since I was working most of the time… and the weather, as I noted, wasn’t exactly what you’d hope for. Plus, they close the beaches and outside pools and bars there at 5 p.m., so I was holed up inside a lot more than I expected. I watched a couple movies in my room, and saw Lucy in the hotel theater one night.
I had been hoping to get more writing done there than I did… but I got in a little, at the Cricket Club and at the bar of the Todd English restaurant Olives (wasn’t impressed with their expensive flatbread, I have to say!). Next to the steak and the Cricket chicken, I think my best meal was right at the end of the trip — I had the most artistic-looking highbrow Chile Rellenos at Bobby Flay’s fancy southwestern Mesa Grill.
The whole time I was there, I was wishing my family could have come on this trip to enjoy the resort while I was working… but it just wasn’t to be this time. At the end, I was really happy to finally board the plane home. Paradise is beautiful, but you don’t want to be there alone!
Borderlands Books in San Francisco is being forced to close.
Independent bookstores are always a slim margin business, and the new minimum wage hike voted in for San Francisco will ultimately up their payroll expenses by nearly 40%. The bookstore is stable now, but will not be viable once the law fully takes effect.
Borderlands has been in my life for most of the years I’ve written fiction. They always supported my work, and always stocked the releases of my small press, Dark Arts Books. Back in the early 2000s, they used to sponsor a huge all-night party at the World Horror Convention (WHC) every year. That party was as much a reason to go to the con as all the rest of the activities! I met Richard Laymon at the very first Borderlands Party I went to, just a couple years before he died.
I’ve stopped by the store whenever I’ve been in San Francisco. The owners, Alan and Jude, and their staff, are smart, funny, amazing people. I can’t imagine the feelings that they are having over this, but I can say this much: Borderlands was one-of-a-kind. For nearly 20 years, it’s been a beacon for SF/F/H book fans around the country. And that light is now soon to go black.
Here is their statement on the situation:
Update 2/8: there’s a great story in The New Yorker about the Borderlands closure:
I’M PROUD TO BE the February “Guest Writer” in the new issue of THE HORROR ZINE which just went live today!
Check out the magazine online — they are featuring my story “After The Fifth Step” – one of my favorite stories to read aloud to an audience. It was originally written for the 2002 anthology Freaks, Geeks & Sideshow Floozies and had also been collected in my short fiction books Vigilantes of Love and Needles & Sins.
The new issue of THE HORROR ZINE also features an essay by Joe Lansdale and an article about one of the most rare serial killers. Check it all out here:
I’m pretty excited that the Horror Novel Reviews web site picked my 8th novel, THE FAMILY TREE, as one of their Top 10 Horror Novels of 2014! The list includes books by Stephen King, Joe R. Landsdale and Eric Red. You can see the full list and book descriptions here:
HNR called the book “a crazy, crazy engaging story that leads readers down an exciting but unexpected path. Awesome characters, awesome conflict, awesome setup, awesome execution. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome, so we say!”
As if that wasn’t enough, a week or so later, HNR also created a list of the Top 13 Horror Novels Released By Samhain Publishing over the past four years… and THE FAMILY TREE made that list as well! You can see that list here:
THE FAMILY TREE also has garnered some pretty good reviews on Amazon since it’s release in October. Reviews call it a “fast enjoyable read” and “truly exceptional horror.” Of course, there are also a couple slams but overall, the has a 4.1 star average. You can read the good, the bad and the ugly here:
Every year on New Year’s Eve, I sit down to contemplate the past 12 months. I used to do this in a paper journal, but the past few years I’ve done it here on my blog. It’s a great way to remember and document where I’ve been, take a deep breath, and get ready for a new merry-go-round.
This year? Not so much! I actually put in more nose-to-the-grind hours at the dayjob this year than in my entire career of working, but most of it was in the office. Which means I not only don’t have a lot of “travelogue” stories for 2014… I don’t have a lot of stories at all. The year for me really passed in a blur of “working late,” week after week. So on that score, I can’t say I’m sorry to see 2014 end. I never really saw it while it was here!
The year started out auspiciously… I had a business trip to Kauai scheduled for early January, and this time around, unlike most of my trips, Geri and Shaun were going to go with me… however, the trip got cut short two days at the start, when we were iced in to O’Hare thanks to the “Polar Vortex.” Then… two days after we finally got to the island, we got a call from home… seems the warm spell that followed the polar vortex flooded our basement! Kind of put a damper on the already truncated trip… not to mention the start of the year. But, we did see some beautiful things while we were on Kauai, including the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” And Shaun and I got to drink out of fresh coconuts.
Once we got home, the basement reclamation work began, and that led to a major project that took up most of my free hours in the spring. Since all the carpet was stripped, I decided to take the opportunity to create a flurry of sawdust and build a new custom bar in the basement. Now… I’ve never really done any woodworking, and I wanted to create an L shaped bar that looked like a real Irish bar, complete with Chicago bar rails. So this was a major project for me. I studied a lot of YouTube videos and blogs, and bought a lot of new tools. But in the end… I ended up with exactly what I was hoping for. I detailed that whole experience in my “How to Build a Bar” blog a few weeks ago, if you want to see the “step-by-step.”
Right around the time the bar was nearly done, I headed up to Washington, D.C. for a meeting. I used to go there for work a lot, and I’ve always enjoyed going there for the music and history. I didn’t visit any music clubs this time around, but I did get to take a walk past the White House, have lunch at a barbecue fest and have dinner in the ever eclectic Adams Morgan neighborhood.
Over the summer, I also spent a few days on a business trip in Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, MI, which allowed me to revisit my ol’ favorite the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery and to finally make a stop at the amazing Founders Brewery (great room, great brewery-only taps!).
And in August, I went on my nearly annual convention trip to Santa Fe, NM… though this year, rather than tagging on my annual “writers retreat” to the trip, I took Geri and Shaun with and extended the trip for some family vacation time. This excursion turned out much better than Hawaii — no basements flooded while we were gone, and I not only got to show my family one of my favorite places in the world, we all got to see the Chimayo chapel, the Rio Grande and we explored the oldest continuously inhabited structure in North America – the Taos Indian reservation.
My brother came in to visit us with his family for a couple days over the summer just before we went to Santa Fe, which was great fun – we don’t get to see them every year, since they live out of state. We took them out to Navy Pier in Chicago and introduced them to my favorite German spot – Hofbrauhaus in Rosemont.
On the “convention scene” this year I appeared once again at DucKon in Northern, Illinois (where I got to hang out with my friends W. D. Gagliani, Dave Benton and Brian Pinkerton) and I also joined the Samhain gang and my Synapse Films friends at the HorrorHound Convention in Indianapolis. I also appeared at my perennial favorite local DanCon, the Chicago Horror Film Fest and the Haunted Flea Market at the DuPage County Fairgrounds this Halloween.
Geri and Shaun and I also took some short weekend drives to Rockford, IL and Springfield, IL to go to a couple of bird fairs… which led us to bring home the fourth member of our flock — a beautiful grey cockatiel baby who Shaun dubbed Stormy, thanks to her wild mix of greys, blacks, whites and a splash of yellow and orange.
So those were my destinations for 2014, only half of them for work:
Ann Arbor, MI
Santa Fe, NM
Typically in the fall, my dayjob hosts an annual convention in another city (last year we were in San Diego), but this year, we held it here at home, in Chicago… so I didn’t log any extra miles for that event this year either.
Favorite Media of the Year?
I didn’t end up getting to see a lot of new movies, and missed things I wanted to see like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Intersellar and Lucy… but out of what I DID see, I think Big Hero Six and Mockingjay were probably my favorites.
I didn’t buy a lot of new albums this year, but my girl-pop jones was fed by some good singles, like Pitbull and Kesha’s “Timber,” Charli XCX’s “Boom Crash” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” I have to admit, I didn’t hear much on the rock scenet that excited me too much.
On the writing front… I have to admit, 2014, was probably one of my least productive years in a decade. Due to all of the extra hours at work, plus the basement cleanup and woodworking project, I really didn’t spend a lot of time at the keyboard in my off hours. There were a couple notable exceptions. At the start of the year, I finished writing my 8th novel, The Family Tree, and turned it in to my publisher, Samhain, at the start of March. That novel debuted in October and actually turned up this week on Horror Novel Reviews’ “Best of the Year” list, which is pretty cool.
In early spring, I was asked to write a story for Qualia Nous, a new anthology edited by Michael Bailey. It was to be a science fiction-oriented horror anthology, and I penned a tale called “Voyeur.” I was happy when it was accepted, but really excited when the final table of contents for the book was released, and I found out my story was appearing alongside Stephen King and William Nolan (of Logan’s Run and Twilight Zone fame).
I also contributed a SF-horror tale called “Amnion” to an anthology called Equilibrium Overturned, which received great reviews over the summer. And I wrote a new story called “The Hole To China” for Horror World’s upcoming 2015 anthology.
And in June, I was asked to return to the world of V-Wars by Jonathan Maberry. I had penned a story called “Love Less” for the original V-Wars book edited by Jonathan, and for the third V-Wars anthology, I continued that story with a piece I wrote in August called “Love Lost.” V-Wars: Night Terrors will appear with that new story in March, 2015.
Meanwhile, my 6th novel, NightWhere, was released in translation in Germany early this summer, and rode the Amazon.de bestseller charts for several weeks. I think the book has actually sold more copies in Germany at this point than it has here! I’m hoping the German release of The 13th this summer will find a similarly receptive audience!
The weeks and months of 2014 have rushed by like a commuter train…. fast and filled to the walls with stress. Usually I’m a little bittersweet about a year’s end, but frankly, I’m happy to close the calendar on this one. My resolution for 2015 is to get control of my life again, and do more of the things I love. I bought a classic Epiphone hollow body electric guitar last spring with my 20th year work anniversary bonus… and I have yet to play it for more than 5 minutes. I have a new novel I’ve been anxious to really get moving. And I have some friends and my family I’d like to see a lot more of.
So as the first hours of the year tick by (to the sounds of a classic 1980 Grateful Dead concert playing on PBS)… here’s to a more relaxed and productive 2015!
“I wish you a Malty Christmas And a Hoppy New Year,
A pocket full of money … And a cellar full of Beer!” — Anonymous
ANYONE WHO HAS BEEN on my mailing list for long knows that I am a total Christmas nut. Our house has the most lights on the block. Our tree has a million ornaments. I own about 300 Christmas CDs!
Over the years, I’ve stepped out of my usual “horror” persona to pen some short Christmas stories, and a couple years ago, I released them, along with some original holiday song lyrics, as a short e-book called Christmas Tales. A warning: Don’t look for horror tales here — these are heartwarming fantasy tales! I hope these stories bring a little Christmas cheer to people who enjoy all genres of fiction.
Christmas Tales just went on sale for $0.99 today, and you can download a copy at any of these stores:
If you haven’t read them in Christmas’ past, I hope you’ll download a copy, settle down on a “cold winter’s night” and enjoy them this Christmas week.
I have also written and recorded an album’s worth of original Christmas songs over the years to give as gifts to family and friends. I recorded most of them with my sister-in-law on lead vocals, but my son Shaun has recorded a couple, and one of my favorites was recorded live in a basement studio with musicians from a couple different bands I’d worked with. It’s called “Show Me Christmas” and you can listen to it for free on my website’s Xmas page. Download it and put it on your iPod this year!
I’m personally looking forward to getting through the next few days at work and then spending the last couple weeks of this month relaxing with my family… maybe I’ll finally get some reading and new writing in. It’s been a hectic year, and it’s definitely time to settle in for a long winter’s night!
I hope you are able to spend some enjoyable, revitalizing time with those you hold dear as we close out the year. Thanks, as always, for reading.
Happy Holidays from my family to yours,
– Originally posted in my December e-Newsletter.
I write novels, I don’t build furniture. But sometimes, circumstance, bravery (or foolishness) collide. I am writing this blog to hopefully show that if you want it bad enough… you can build it. I documented most of my steps along the way with photos, so you can see all of the steps I went through. All of the photos on this page are thumbnails – click on them to see full-size versions.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN…
A few months ago, my basement had some water damage thanks to a faulty sump pump and all the carpet was removed. Before having new carpet installed, I decided that while the main room was bare concrete floor and empty of furnishings, I would finally take a crack at replacing the old half-bar that had been fashioned out of paneling 30 years ago by the home’s original owner. I wanted a more formal bar that resembled the Irish bars I’ve grown to love writing novels in.
However… the stores that sell home bars wanted $3,000 – $5,000 for the kind of bar I wanted, and really none of them offered the kind of gorgeous golden oak I loved, even if I could have afforded that kind of price tag. And they wouldn’t have fit the particular space I had very well, given that I had a short wall and a built-in refrigerator I couldn’t completely block.
So I was left with the option of trying to build it myself.
The only problem with that idea was, my experience with woodwork is almost nil. I replaced some plank flooring in a shed once… and helped my stepbrother install a small deck at my first house 20 years ago. That’s about it. I didn’t even have most of the tools I would need. During the course of this project I made a LOT of trips to Menard’s, and ended up buying a new circular saw, miter saw, rechargeable drill, carpenter’s square, nail sinker, tape measure and electric sander, among other things. That certainly inflated my overall pricetag, but I now have a great work bench in my utility room.
I didn’t let little things like lack of knowledge, experience or tools stop me! And you shouldn’t either!
CREATING THE PLAN…
I scoured the Internet for plans and “how-to’s” on home bars and found a few articles and YouTube videos with various approaches. I compared what they did with what I wanted, and found myself coming back again and again to Gordon Milligan’s excellent blog post on how he built his home bar. Emboldened that it might actually be possible for someone completely inexperienced like me to do this, I sat down and planned out the dimensions for what I wanted to do for my own project.
I’m a very visual person, and can’t really deal well with blueprints. I created some initial planning schematics in Photoshop to give me a plan, but I also saw a lot of articles that suggest using boxes or some other three dimensional object to get a feeling for what your “plan” will really feel like in three-dimensional space once it’s done… and I think that’s wise. I already had “half” a bar (the one I was replacing), so I used that — putting it in place first on one side, and then sliding it to the other side of the area where my new L shaped bar would go (the previous bar was simply an I). I chalked out the floor around it so while I had dimensions committed to paper, I would visibly see if something had gone awry from my original plan while I worked. Having a concrete floor at the time and building it in place was definitely a plus.
BUILDING THE FRAME…
The first step was to build a frame. I’d never framed anything. But looking at Milligan’s post and a couple others, I gradually got the concept of using “squares” of wood that interlock. I opted to use 2 x 4s instead of 2 x 6s, because my bar wasn’t going to be that long — just over 6.5 feet in one direction, and just under 6 feet in the other (measured from the ends of the Chicago bar rail, not the frame itself).
You have to do some math here to arrive at how big to make your frame… because on top of your frame, you’re going to hang wood of a certain dimension (probably 3/4 inch) and then you’re going to want to seat a bar top above that which covers the frame and extends 8-10 inches past your “walls” so people’s knees have somewhere to go. So you need to plan your frame based on the width of your actual bar top as well as on the ultimate final height. You should end up with your bar being about 41″ high.
If you’re doing an L shape bar as I did, you can actually build two sections completely separately, and then press them together at the very end and “latch” them. That’s how some of the pre-fab bars at furniture stores work. But I wanted my bar top to meet at an 45 degree angle and I wanted the whole bar to feel like a solid piece, so my frame is not divisible. That also means, my bar can never be disassembled to easily leave my basement. I pity the man who decides to take it apart someday.
A lot of people build the bar and then build the additional cabinetry as a separate box that sits behind the bar… I decided to frame in the cabinet area right under the bar to make the best use of space, so my frame was deeper than many I’ve seen. One problem I created for myself… In the last picture above, you can see that I made a smaller cabinet on the left (front) face of the bar than on the right. I also made the right side a couple inches deeper than the small cabinet, so I could store more things. This came back to bite me in the end, because that meant that the bar top needed to be extra wide to cover one side vs. the other… the realistic endgame of that is that the overhang on one side is shorter than the other. Nobody would notice really… but it’s a consideration I didn’t consider in planning!
You also have to plan whether your bar top is going to be edged by some rounded finishing pieces or by true Chicago bar rail. My dream was to have a bar that really looked like a pro bar… so Chicago bar rail it was. But that’s an expensive proposition too – about $12 a foot. To me it was worth it… because that edge is what you’re going to look at every time you walk into the room. I ordered six-foot lengths from Hardwoods Inc. and ended up having to order an extra piece because I’d underestimated my spoilage. Cutting that stuff without pro equipment can be challenging! But we’ll get there in a minute.
HANGING ‘CLOTHES’ ON THE FRAME…
After I created my frame, I used oak veneer plywood (3/4″) to cover the front. I didn’t have a solid piece that long, so I tried to cut the two pieces for each in a length that would naturally be covered by my facing slats. I screwed those into the 2 x 4s of the frame, knowing that I would be adding slats later that would cover the screws and the seams. On the inside, I used 1/4 inch oak plywood.
For the top “underside” shelf I used 1″ solid oak, but since I ended up facing it, I really could have saved a couple bucks there and used oak veneer plywood. That’s what I used for the interior shelves. For those, I screwed in 1 x 1 oak strips to serve as my shelf support (again, in retrospect, I could have saved some money and used pine since it’s really not visible). To cut out the front U opening in the shelves that fits around the 2 x 4 central dividers, I clamped the shelves to the top of the bar frame and used a jigsaw to create the U cut. Despite careful measuring, I cut them too tight the first time and had to open up the “hole” a little… but that was better than the reverse problem.
After I had the shelving placed inside, I used 1/4″ oak veneer slats to cover the visible sides of the 2×4 support. These were attached with wood glue and clamps. Then I used 1 x 2 pieces to create a facing lattice on the cabinet insides to hide the seams. These were also glued, with some small finishing nails to hold them in place. I used a nail punch to push the nails deep into the 1/4″ pieces and then covered them with wood filler.
Once the cabinet insides were finished, I could finally add the facing boards on the outside. I used oak 1 x4″ pieces, except for the vertical end pieces which were wider. I wanted everything tight, so I tended to cut them slightly large and then shaved them down a hair at a time on the miter saw until the seams all snugged up well.
THE BIG CUT!
Once the back facing was in place, I began to get the bar top ready. I placed a couple of 1 x 20 x 72″ sanded plywood pieces on top of my frame, and positioned my two 1 x 16 x 72″ oak boards on top of that, and then placed the oak rail in place to see how it all was going to sit once I began cutting things to size.
Once I was sure all of the pieces were going to work, I cut the plywood base for the bar top and screwed that into my frame. Then I cut the oak boards for my bar top… probably in the worst way possible! I didn’t have a table saw, and the miter saw would only cut 12 inches… I needed 16. So I put the two pieces on top of each other in a right angle and clamped them down hard. I also clamped my level — I used it as a metal guide for my saw to move against and stay straight. Then I used my circular saw to free-form cut across the two pieces to make my 45 degree angle cut. A pretty risky proposition with two big expensive pieces of oak. In the end, I got lucky and it worked pretty well… but I didn’t achieve a perfect no gap seam – after sanding, staining and varnish, it looks good, but it’s not as “tight” as a table saw would have gotten it.
Once that most stressful cut was complete, I clamped the oak in position, applied some wood glue to help lock it to the plywood frame beneath it, and then screwed the base and the top together. I drilled small holes on the underside of the bar and then screwed up from beneath (which was difficult in the far ends inside the cabinet!) I used screws short enough that they wouldn’t come through the top of my bar. Once it was screwed so much that it will never, ever, ever come apart, I sanded the top down, especially the area where the 45 degree seam met.
Finally, it was time to do the second most important cuts of the project.
THE BAR RAIL…
Bar rail is a stepped piece of wood, so it’s difficult to cut easily. It’s really important to a) have a good table/miter saw and b) put a spoiler board of the right size under the “step” of the underside of the bar rail. My miter saw turned out not to be a “perfect” angle cutter and I ended up re-cutting my edges several times because I kept ending up with a cut that left the top of the bar rail separated while the bottom was tight. Ultimately I ended up tilting the blade of my miter saw a degree to ensure the bottom of the rail wasn’t stopping the top from closing tight. That’s what you get when you buy a $100 miter saw instead of a pro piece of equipment. But I made it work. Watch this key video on YouTube to see how to do this… I watched it many times!
After I got the bar rails cut, I applied wood glue to the subboard and upper inside “step” of the bar rail. Then I clamped them in place, and drilled holes every few inches on the underside, making sure my screws were going to go through in the deepest section, so they didn’t pop through the top of my rail. It was a wonderful feeling when I took those clamps off the next day and everything was solid and tight!
THE SPILL RAIL…
After screwing the bar rail in place, I cut 1×3 oak boards and made the outside of the spill rail. Because of my shelving, I actually needed a thicker edge than many bars I’ve seen in order to allow my bar top to overhang on the outside of the frame enough, while covering the whole frame too. My actual center oak of the bar was 16″ wide. But with the bar rail and the spill rail, the full depth of my bar from edge to edge is just over 26″.
Basically with my spill trough and its outlying rail, I extended my top by several inches and achieved the coverage over the frame and cabinets that I needed, while providing a useful feature in a basement that would have carpet — while many spill rails are not contained on the inside of the bar, mine is… because you don’t want spills draining onto the carpet, but rather being contained by the spill trough.
I used my existing Makers Mark rubber mat to tell me the right dimension for the trough (3.5 inches). Once I had it all set, I glued and clamped the trough rails in place and screwed them into the support plywood from underneath so no screws show.
I also faced the inside of the trough with 1/4″ oak strips. Originally, I did this to both extend the live surface of the bar a half inch on the bartenders’ side, as well as to provide a slight divider between the bar top and the overflow into the trough. I was going to use an epoxy to finish the top of the bar and I figured that little bump would keep the epoxy contained on the bar so that it didn’t drain into the trough. In the end, I opted to simply varnish the bar, so that plan was unnecessary.
I used the 1/4″ oak veneer strips to cover the bottom of the trough so that you weren’t seeing the plywood that the oak bartop was screwed into. Then I faced the inside rail of the bar with two rounded oak veneer pieces. These gave it a finished look and also helped hide the fact that one side of the inside part of the bar stuck out from the frame slightly more than the other!
I faced the front and side vertical panels of the bar with a 1 x 6″ oak piece on the bottom and .5 x 4″ slats vertically spaced out strategically to hide the seams of my oak face. These were attached with wood glue and a couple small finishing nails to hold them tight while the glue dried since I had no way to clamp them. I sunk the nails below the wood surface and covered them with wood filler. I actually varied the pattern of the slats between the front and the long side, and like how it turned out.
MAKING DOORS WITH WINDOWS…
The final building step was to create the cabinet doors. I wanted the side of the bar that you could see walking into the room faced with doors, while I left the other side open.
I used 1 x 3″ oak strips and miter cut the ends to 45 degree angles. I actually cut them one on top of each other on the miter saw to ensure a matched cut. Then I laid them out on a flat cement floor, glued them and screwed them together. To hide the screws, I faced them with a 1/4″ oak finishing strip that I glued on and clamped. On the inside, I glued quarter round pieces, so that there was an inside “shelf” for the glass to rest on.
I learned the importance of not letting any glue leak out onto visible surfaces with that maneuver — I thought I’d worked pretty clean with the glue, but I ended up with some discolored areas once I applied the stain — you could see where glue had seeped out and soaked into the wood. Luckily I was able to touch up the marks with a Miniwax Stain Marker.
Once assembled, I attached the plexiglass I had had cut to size at our hardware store by screwing it in with screen clip holders. I then removed the plexiglass until after the stain and varnish were done (leaving the holder screws in place) and attached the doors with three hinges each. I set the doors up on blocks to ensure an equal alignment.
THE HOME STRETCH – ADDING COLOR AND SHINE!
Once the doors were on, it was time to sand and stain. I used both a small power sander and sanding sponges to go over all the visible areas. To choose the stain, I bought some stain sample packets at Menard’s and used the scraps of wood from the bar rail and bar front to test what each of our favorite options might look like. I love the honey oak look, but I wanted to make sure this had a little deeper richness to it, so I ended up using Varathane’s Golden Mahogany. I started on the inside so that if I hated it, or made any newbie mistakes, I could hide it. Once I’d completed brushing it on and paper toweling the excess back off, I stood back and looked… and worried that I’d gone too dark.
My wife agreed it looked a little darker than we thought, but urged me to press on… and once it dried, it did lighten just a bit, letting the buttery finish show.
The addition of varnish brought out the golden hue more, and in the end, it looked exactly as I’d hoped!
This was the first time I’d varnished anything in probably 25 years, and when I read the instructions to sand the urethane after each coat, I couldn’t believe it… how counter-productive is that? You put on a paper thin coat and then sand half it back off? But if you want a non-bumpy finish… you have to do it.
I brushed on 5 coats of urethane over the course of 4 days. I used fine sandpaper in between the first couple coats and then began using steel wool. I used a a tack cloth to make sure the dust all came off, however, the first four coats of Miniwax Spar Urethane were full of small remnants – it was as if I was painting the bar with a clear coat that included hundreds of grains of sand. I tried a new can, and got the same result. Finally on the fifth coat, I switched and used Varathane Spar Urethane… and the result was amazing. The urethane went on with a completely different consistency than the Miniwax. It dried to a beautiful, clear almost speckless coat, and I decided that that was as good as it was going to get. I saw some recommendations to do 7 coats, but I stopped at 5. That coat count, by the way, is for the top. I only went over the sides of the bar twice. Those didn’t need to be like glass.
A few days after my final coat, the carpet came… it was a wonderful feeling to move that bar finally into position. It had taken over two months… but I had built a bar!
THE TAP DISPLAY…
But I wasn’t completely done. I had gotten the idea to create a beer tap display to mount on the wall behind the bar. During the weeks that I was slowly building the bar, I also was searching eBay for the taps of my favorite beer as well as some cheap tap spigots to “mount” my taps on to create an authentic looking display (much as I would have loved to have them, I was not going to run real tap lines through the wall… and then have to clean them every week!). I found some kegerator spigots for about $10 a piece, and one by one, assembled my wish list of taps.
Once I had all my taps and tap spigots ready, I took two pieces of oak and cut them to size. I used a 1 1/8″ spade bit for my drill and bored holes in the top piece with about 2.75″ in between each hole. Then I glued that board to the larger board, stained and urethaned them, and then used Gorilla Glue to lock my spigots into the holes (I tried to find a way that I could screw them into the wood… but that didn’t work. Gorilla Glue locked them in really good – I just had to go sparingly on it, so the push-pull tap action didn’t get locked up when the Gorilla Glue foamed up inside the spigots).
THE BACK BAR…
My final project for the bar space was to build a “back bar.” The taps looked a little odd, floating up high on the wall with nothing beneath them, and I had more wine then our small wine rack held. Plus, I had more of my pint glass collection I wanted to display. So I decided to build a combination wine rack / glass holder to fill the space beneath the taps.
I was a little worried about the length of the thing – the wall space between the refrigerator and the bar cabinet doors is not a lot. And I didn’t want to completely block the cabinet from opening. I figured out what seemed like a good compromise and then used wine bottles to gauge how deep the lower half had to be — I didn’t want it to stick out a half inch farther than it had to from the wall! The rest was a fairly simple project after the bar — I framed up a box using oak (again, I could have saved a lot of money on this piece if I’d used mostly pine).
I measured my existing wine rack to decide how much clearance I needed between shelves, and then figured out how many shelves I could have in order to have the top piece of wood end up level with the top of the bar (41″).
Most people would do this on paper, but I figured all the measurements out using my grid in Photoshop.
I used 1.5″ and 3″ hole saws on my drill to make the wine bottle holes in the wood, both front and back of shelf pieces (small holesaw on the front and wide on the back.) I used the wine bottles again to figure out how much spacing I wanted between the holes and then clamped two pieces of wood together and drilled out my holes (one piece got the top half of the hole saw, the other piece got the bottom, so I ended u with half circles in each board).
I used small 1 x 1 boards to hold up the shelves, and then drilled and glued the rear bottle supports onto the back of each shelf board. I set those in place and slid them out slightly, so that the front wine bottle holders sat on them… then I drilled holes and attached those to the frame and then slid the shelves back inside. So the end result is, my shelves are removable, if I desire, though they look locked in place. I sunk the screws in below the face of the wood, and put filler over the top. You can see the circles, but they look like rustic wood plugs instead of visible screws.
The top half for the glasses was a very simple box made of 1x4s with a shelf right in the middle of it. I put 1/4 inch oak veneer on the backs of both pieces, and then sanded, stained and varnished them (two coats). After it dried, I brought it to its new home behind the bar, and screwed the top onto the bottom by going up from beneath, so the screws wouldn’t show. It worked out nicely!
And then for the finishing touch — I snaked Christmas rope lights inside the main bar and tacked them in place with some cable holders. Then I added an easy on-off switch at the end of the extension cord and hid them with a bottle on the lower shelf. This really brightened up the bar – there’s nothing like the gleam of colored liquor bottles being backlit!
One thing I wasn’t going to do was build the barstools… but I couldn’t find any that matched the wood of the bar — everything seems to be done in walnut and cherry. And in most of the stores where they sell bar stool and rec room furniture, the prices were $200 and $300 per stool. Ultimately, I found a set at Hobo that worked well – they were cherry, but with black leather and swivel seats. And they were just $80 a chair with backs, and half that for the stools without backs… I bought three “chair” stools for one side and three no-back stools for the other. While they don’t match the bar, they complement it nicely – and they’re comfortable!
It was a long, involved project, one that took up my minimal free time for months… but it was definitely worth doing. It looks great, it’s custom to the space, and every time I walk into the room, something inside me perks up and pounds its invisible chest and says “I did that. Me!” I think I’m more proud of the accomplishment of this project than I am of most of the books I’ve written. Speaking of which… for those of you waiting on the next Everson novel… it’s going to be a bit delayed. I… um… spent a lot of my “writing time” this year building a bar!
Of course, those of you who follow my work probably know that I do a lot of my writing in bars — and now I have a really comfortable one very close to home. So maybe I’ll be more productive this year.
After all, the bartender never calls for my tab!
Three of my Leisure/47North horror novels – THE PUMPKIN MAN, SIREN and THE 13TH – were chosen to be on Amazon’s Halloween Horror Kindle Deals promotion – 51 books for $1.99. Figured I should post this for anyone reading the blog in the next 24 hours! Here are the links and descriptions:
THE PUMPKIN MAN:
When Jenn inherits her aunt’s cottage, she doesn’t realize she is inheriting the start of a new dark legend. The Pumpkin Man has returned, leaving jack-o-lanterns carved in the likeness of his victims’ heads. How is the Ouija Board in the old cottage, and the mysterious hidden room connected? Will Jenn escape being carved by… THE PUMPKIN MAN?
When Evan is lured into the sea by the beautiful naked woman singing on the rocks… he has no idea what he is getting into.
For Evan will soon realize that his seductive lover is a being far more evil…and more terrifying…than he ever imagined. He will learn the danger of falling into the clutches of the… SIREN.
A century ago it was an exclusive resort hotel. But for years Castle House Lodge has stood empty, a haunting shadow of its former glories. Now, after twenty-five years of rumors and ghost stories, the overgrown grounds are showing signs of being tended. The building itself has been repaired. Castle House has new occupants.
What was once a haven for the elite is now a madhouse, a private asylum for pregnant women. But are all the patients really insane? And is it just a coincidence that people have begun to disappear from the nearby town? David Shale’s girlfriend is one of the missing, and he’s determined to find the truth behind the mysterious Dr. Rockford and his house of secrets. He will learn the meaning of the red X painted on the basement door…and he will know the ultimate fear, the horror of… THE 13TH.
If you want to see the full list of Amazon Horror Titles on sale for Halloween, go here:
PLUS: CAGE Kindle Countdown Deal Ends Soon
In addition to all that… my first short fiction collection, CAGE OF BONES & OTHER DEADLY OBSESSIONS, originally released by Delirium Books for Halloween back in 2000, is on sale today on a Kindle Countdown Deal for just $0.99.
Just 14 hours left on the Countdown! This one includes 20 erotic horror tales, including my most popular story, “Pumpkin Head.”
Trick or Treat!