Captain Spaulding on Skull Island

Gene Wolfe Tribute

February 12th, 2020

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Here’s a short story I wrote for a tribute show Gumbo Fiction Salon did shortly after Gene Wolfe’s passing.

Twenty years ago, an anthology of horror stories came out called 999.  It had stories by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, F. Paul Wilson, Joyce Carol Oates, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Lansdale, William Peter Blatty – to name just a few.  On September 9th (9-9-99), there were book signings all across the country.  We were lucky enough to have Gene Wolfe signing at our wonderful genre bookstore The Stars Our Destination.  I went and had Gene sign his fantastic contribution “The Tree Is My Hat” (which you should read if you haven’t). 

I’d just had my first story published and this came up in our small talk.  Gene seemed so happy for me!  We talked for a moment or two about short stories and how, when he started writing, you could pay 6 months of your mortgage with 2 short story sales.  He was incredibly encouraging to this young writer and gave me acceptance into an elite club that I was just joining.

I wrote this shortly after he died.  It was slightly inspired by his BOOK OF THE NEW SUN series, and also by the fact that he helped invent the machine that bakes Pringles.

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“The Book of the New Sun-Pringles” by John Weagly

Scarcity is a zest to be savored.

The Pringles potato chip company issued a new flavor in the spring – Sun-Pringles.  Each chip was dusted cheddar-orange like a distant sun in the final throes of death and had a light sprinkling of Venusian salt (which actually came from an Alkali Sink near the Pilot Mountains in Utah) and a drop of antediluvian stardust Balsamic vinegar.  The chips were baked to perfection in a machine that was an engineering marvel and that guaranteed every snack was sublime excellence. 

Each taste of the new chips was supposed to be ambrosia.

They were scarce.  They were rare.  The Sun-Pringles were only available for a limited time and I wanted them.

Times were dark.  The long winter months had me perpetually remembering distant summers and the inertia of regret trapped me in my somber burrow on the north side of the Windy City.  Getting out into the open would do me good.

I left my dingy apartment and stepped out into the still brisk April air.  The 7-Eleven on the corner was always a good haven for snacks.  The electronic chime knelled as I stepped through the door and I made my way to the cramped chip aisle.  Nestled among the Cheetos, Tostitos, Fritos and Doritos, among the Ruffles and Duffles and Wayz and Lay’s, there they were – The Pringles.

There was one cylinder of the new Sun-Pringles left.

I reached out to claim them, my mouth watering at the thought of the first rapturous crunch, when a large hand clad in a black, leather glove took them from the shelf.

I looked at the man who stole my quarry and my heart closed in dread.  He was near seven feet tall and wore a fuligin cloak.  At his hip, he carried an Executioner’s sword.

“You… uh… um…,” my voice tremored.  “You’re a member of the… uh…”

He glared down at me with eyes like the cinders of Hell.  Fuligin cloaks are only worn by members of the Torturer’s Guild – Seekers for Truth and Penitence.  They travel around performing executions, torturing heretics and wastrels and generally striking terror into anyone who crossed their path.  I took his medieval glare as a yes.

I could smell the fear gurgling in my blood, yet I had something I had to say.  “So, I… uhhh… I came here, to this place, to… ummmm…”

Indifferent to my stammering, the beast’s jaw twitched and he turned to leave with the last vessel of my soul’s desire.

“Those are my chips!”

His hand flexed on the cardboard cannister.  A low growl rose from his throat.

I pointed at the Sun-Pringles in his devastating hand. 

“I was sitting at home on my couch and I got really hungry and I remembered seeing commercials for these new chips and I thought ‘Those would be really good’ so I got dressed and put on my shoes and walked over here even though I hate going outside and that is the last tube of Sun-Pringles and I was going to get it but then you just snatched it up right in front of me so you can chop off my head or subpoena my thumbs or crack my elbows like walnuts or whatever it is you guys do, but those are my chips.”

The torturer’s agitation seemed ready to boil over.  He clenched his jaw and slowed his breathing and the tension in his skin looked like it couldn’t contain the anger in his bones.  After what seemed several fortnights, he spoke.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.  “Take them.  I’ll have something else.”

He handed me the last tube of Sun-Pringles, grabbed a cannister of Salt and Vinegar and lumbered to the front of the store.  After grabbing a bottle of Diet Root Beer, the scourge of a man paid and left. 

When I got home, I tasted of my treasure.  Ambrosia?  No.  The chips had kick, but they left an aftertaste like an old, wet shoe.

-the end-

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Rattlesnake Chili

January 30th, 2020

Here’s a sketch I wrote for the Lumpy & Sasquatch podcast about the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Rattlesnake Chili by John Weagly

(Lights up.  A kitchen in a farmhouse.  SCOTT sits at the table, a pot of chili in front of him.  GREG enters.)

SCOTT:  Want some rattlesnake chili?

GREG:  Yes!  Wait – what’s rattlesnake chili?  Is it extra hot?  Is it extra spicy?  Does it have weird beans?

SCOTT:  It’s chili with rattlesnake in it. 

GREG:  Where did you get a rattlesnake?

SCOTT:  He was curled up in the shed.

GREG:  Wow!

SCOTT:  He tried to bite me.  I hit him with a shovel.  Now he’s in my chili.

GREG:  Is that safe?  Chopping up a rattlesnake and throwing him in a pot of chili doesn’t seem safe.

SCOTT:  I didn’t put in the bones.  Or the rattle.  And I don’t think I put in the venom thing.

GREG:  I think I’ll pass.

SCOTT:  I’m going to have some.  (SCOTT puts a spoon into the pot and eats some of the chili.)  Mmmm.  A little tough.  A little stringy.  But that’s good diamondback!

GREG:  Maybe now something mystical will happen to you.

SCOTT:  What do you mean?

GREG:  By eating him, the spirit of the snake will transport you to another place like in some kind of fantasy movie.

SCOTT:  I think you mean some kind of science fiction movie.

GREG:  No, a fantasy movie.

SCOTT:  No.  Science fiction is based in science.  My digestive process and the way my body reacts to rattlesnake meat is understood thanks to years of systematic study through observation and experiment.  Science!

GREG:  No.

SCOTT:  Yes.

GREG:  No!  If anything were to happen to you, it would probably be because of supernatural or magical elements.  Like the snake curse of a thousand coils sends you drifting from our reality to a land where people slither on the ground like snakes and snakes drive around in cars like people.  As in a fantasy movie. 

SCOTT:  No!

GREG:  Yes!

SCOTT:  Science fiction is possible or may be possible.  If something happened to me, here in real life, it would be possible – because it’s actually happening in real life.

GREG:  Fantasy is based on magic.  Maybe the dead snake will give you dreams that are visions of the future.  That would be supernatural.

SCOTT:  Science fiction.  Like BLADE RUNNER or ROBOCOP or BRAZIL.

GREG:  There aren’t rattlesnakes in ROBOCOP.

SCOTT:  No, but Joanna Cassidy has a replicant python in BLADE RUNNER.

GREG:  Doesn’t matter.  It would be fantasy like THE PRINCESS BRIDE or FIELD OF DREAMS or CONAN THE BARBARIAN.

SCOTT:  There are R.O.U.S.’s and shrieking eels in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, but there aren’t rattlesnakes!

GREG:  No, but James Earl Jones turns into a snake in CONAN.

SCOTT:  I just think… I… ugh…  Wait.  Ugh…  Uh-Oh!  You might be right.  I think I’m about to be transported to another place, like the Emergency Room.

GREG:  What’s wrong?

SCOTT:  I don’t feel so good.  I ugh… I think I got some venom.  I need to go to the hospital.

GREG:  Nausea?  Tingling?  Lightheaded?  Aching and throbbing?  Difficulty breathing? 

SCOTT:  Uh huh.  It’s like a thousand snakes fighting in my belly.

GREG:  That’s your body reacting to the venom.  That’s science.  You win!

(Lights down.)

A New Holiday Story – And More!

December 21st, 2019

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I try to write a new holiday short story every year. This December, the good people at Every Day Fiction were kind enough to publish my latest.

It’s called “Dirty Pool Angel on Broken Bells Road” and it can be found here.

Interested in some of the other stories I’ve written for the winter festive season? Here’s where some of my previous tales can be found.

“Fatty & Tinsel-Toes Kill A Christmas Goose” at Do Some Damage

“Molotov Cocktails on Chimney Cake Lane” at Out of the Gutter

“Altercation on Ballet Boulevard” at Out of the Gutter

Enjoy! And Happy Holidays!!!

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When I started writing plays 27 years ago, I assumed I could get a few small productions, maybe one a year if I was lucky, in Chicago and a couple of other theater-friendly towns.

Here’s a short film from Impulsive Content of my play “Bags of Bones” being performed in Taiwan.

(As a side note, Taiwan Terry was in the first play I ever had produced in 1992.)

And here’s a fun behind-the-scenes look at the making of this wonderful short film.

Since we are in the midst of a Stephen King renaissance, and since today is his 72nd birthday, here’s a list of some of my favorite Stephen King short stories.

In chronological order:

Gray Matter,” 1973 in NIGHT SHIFT

“One for the Road,” 1977 in NIGHT SHIFT

“The Jaunt,” 1981 in SKELETON CREW

“Survivor Type,” 1982 in SKELETON CREW

“Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” 1984 in SKELETON CREW

 “Rainy Season,” 1989 in NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES

“The Man in the Black Suit,” 1994 in EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL

“All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” 2001 in EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL

“The Dune,” 2011 in THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

Laurie,” 2018 Uncollected – Available Online

Happy Birthday, Stevie-Baby!

I wrote this in the wee hours of this morning.  It’s in response to the tragedy and absurdity of the last few days.

LAZY-DAY OBSERVATIONS ON FERAL HOGS by John Weagly

(Lights up.  The porch of a rural farmhouse in El Dorado, Arkansas.  PENELOPE and HATTIE sit in rocking chairs drinking lemonade, looking out at the yard and enjoying the day.  There is never a sense of urgency to anything they say or do.)

PENELOPE

Nice day.

HATTIE

Hot.

PENELOPE

Dry.

HATTIE

Dusty.

PENELOPE

But nice.

(Pause.  They enjoy the view.)

PENELOPE

Huh.  Would you look at that.

HATTIE

What?

PENELOPE

A sounder

HATTIE

What’s a sounder?

PENELOPE

See those hogs over there?

HATTIE

In the yard?  By those kids?

PENELOPE

Yep.

HATTIE

I see ‘em.

PENELOPE

A herd of hogs is called a sounder.

HATTIE

A herd of hogs?

PENELOPE

A herd of hogs, a pack of pigs, a swarm of swine, a brood of boar, a rabble of razorback, a proletariat of porkers.

HATTIE

A sounder.

PENELOPE

Yep.

HATTIE

Huh.  You learn something new every day.

(Pause.  They look at the hogs.)

HATTIE

There must be thirty of ‘em.

PENELOPE

More like fifty.

HATTIE

I’ve seen groups of hogs before, but never more than twenty.

PENELOPE

Sounder.

HATTIE

I’ve seen sounders of hogs before, but never more than twenty.

PENELOPE

That’s a damn big sounder.

HATTIE

I wonder if they’re going to eat those kids.

PENELOPE

I hope not.

HATTIE

Me, too.  That would make for a regretful day and many awkward conversations.

PENELOPE

It’d be a shame.

HATTIE

A real shame.

(Pause.  They watch the kids.)

PENELOPE

Maybe we should try to do something.

HATTIE

About the hogs and the kids?

PENELOPE

About the sounder and the kids.

HATTIE

I don’t see what we can do.

PENELOPE

One of those hogs just ate little Bobby Lipton.

HATTIE

That’s too bad.  He was a nice boy.

PENELOPE

He was.

HATTIE

But I don’t see what we can do.

(Pause.  They sip lemonade.)

PENELOPE

You know, I think there’s a pretty big patch of quicksand over in that eastern corner of the yard.

HATTIE

Quicksand?

PENELOPE

Yep.

HATTIE

Quicksand is dangerous.  How come nobody ever covered it up or filled it in?

PENELOPE

We thought about it, but covering up quicksand just makes it angry.

HATTIE

Makes sense.  You don’t want angry quicksand.

PENELOPE

What if we, both of us…

HATTIE

A couple of those hogs just got Rhonda Sue Peligrino.

PENELOPE

What if we, both of us, thought real hard about sending those hogs over to that quicksand.

HATTIE

You mean, make that sounder do what we want – just by thinking about it?

PENELOPE

Yep.

HATTIE

Get ‘em to the quicksand and those hogs would sink.

PENELOPE

All fifty of ‘em.

HATTIE

That’d take an awful lot of really serious thought.

PENELOPE

I bet the two of us could do it.

HATTIE

I don’t know…

PENELOPE

We’ve got to try.  They just tore apart the Wallace twins.

HATTIE

Okay.  Let’s go for it.

PENELOPE

Good.  Now, on three.  One.

HATTIE

Two.

PENELOPE & HATTIE

Three.

(PENELOPE and HATTIE close their eyes and think as hard as they can.  After a moment, they relax and speak.)

HATTIE

Did it work?

PENELOPE

Let’s open our eyes and see.

(PENELOPE and HATTIE cautiously open their eyes.)

HATTIE

Those hogs aren’t any closer to the quicksand.

PENELOPE

There are a few less kids, though.

HATTIE

That’s hardly our fault.

PENELOPE

Right.  We did everything we could.

HATTIE

Yep.  If feral hogs don’t want to obey our brainwaves and wallow into quicksand…

PENELOPE

…There’s nothing we can do about it.

HATTIE

I guess people just shouldn’t have kids.

PENELOPE

Yep.  Not around sounders, anyway.

(Pause.)

HATTIE

Nice day.

PENELOPE

Hot.

HATTIE

Dry.

PENELOPE

Dusty.

HATTIE

Hogs eating the children.

PENELOPE

But nice.

(Lights down.)

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Harlan Ellison RIP

June 30th, 2018

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On June 28th, author Harlan Ellison passed away in his sleep (the same day Rod Serling died in 1975).  He could be controversial, but I loved his work.  He was very influential on my own writing.

Here are a few reminisces.

In 1987, I was cast as Everett in an adaptation of “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ said the Ticktockman.” It was for a class project, adapting for the stage or something like that, and we only did a reading, but it was a blast. That was my first real exposure to Ellison’s work.

Back before I bought everything online, I spent a lot of time in used bookstores. The first author I would look for was Harlan Ellison. His books always seemed like rare treasures when I stumbled across one, and I would purchase them without trepidation. His work is kept on the “Special” bookcase I have next to my desk.

In 1998, I was at an opening night party for a play I’d worked on (David Goodis’ BLACK FRIDAY). The playwright/adapter was talking about a short story he’d read about a homeless woman with a stuffed animal. I said, “’Soft Monkey’ by Harlan Ellison?” He found it extremely impressive that I knew the story. He was working on an anthology series of crime stories that he was planning to pitch to HBO or Showtime (Like FALLEN ANGELS, but strictly crime and no detective tales). He brought me on to help him find appropriate stories and made me an associate producer. Sadly, the project never went anywhere, but thanks to having read “Soft Monkey,” I had a brief career in television.

In 2015, I started  project with Ellison’s “Best of” collection THE TOP OF THE VOLCANO. I read a story a month. It took almost 2 years.  Even though I’d read 80% of the stories before, it was still a delightful project.

 

Here’s a personal favorite list:

‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Jeffty is Five

The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore

He Who Grew Up Reading Sherlock Holmes

The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge

How’s the Night Life on Cissalda?

Star Trek 1967 – “City on the Edge of Forever”

The Outer Limits 1964 – “Demon With A Glass Hand”

The Twilight Zone 1985 – “Paladin of the Lost Hour”

 

For more info:

Here’s a good Recommended List from The Portalist.

Here’s a good article on the good and bad of him written by Nick Mamatas for Legacy.com.

And I highly recommend the documentary DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH.

R.I.P.

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Hey look!  I wrote a new holiday story!

“Altercation on Ballet Boulevard”

You can read it at Out of the Gutter.

So do that.  Go read it.

Happy holidays!

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Just in time for the Halloween season, read my new short story “Alleyway Alvin” over at Out of the Gutter.

Part of Flash Fiction Offensive’s Gutteral Screams.

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RIP Harry Dean Stanton

September 15th, 2017

Here’s the thing with Harry Dean Stanton – There aren’t a lot of movies that can necessarily be called “Harry Dean Stanton” Movies (Only “Paris, Texas, “Lucky”” and “Repo Man” come to mind).

He was more of a “Cool!  Harry Dean Stanton is in this!” kind of actor.  Even if he’s just sitting in the background, playing cards and smoking a cigarette, he makes a movie or TV show more interesting.  For instance – I got a big smile on my face when he showed up for his short scene in “The Avengers.”

Here are some favorites:

Two-Lane Blacktop, 1971

Alien, 1979

Escape From New York, 1981

Paris, Texas, 1984

Repo Man, 1984

Wild At Heart, 1990

The Straight Story, 1999

I assume I’ll add “Lucky” from this year to this list, once I see it.

And I really enjoyed the documentary about him, “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction,” 2012

Rest in Peace.

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