Posted in books, fiction, horror, movies, Publishing, Tarot, Vampires, writing

World Dracula Day 2016



I didn’t know there was one! Today is the anniversary of the first publication of “Dracula” in 1897. In honor of that, here some links to fun Dracula-related things (sites, podcasts):

The Dracula Chronicles

The Vampire Historian – World Dracula Day Mini-sode (from 2015, don’t see anything more recent)

The 1977 “Count Dracula” from the BBC, starring Louis Jourdan. One of the more faithful adaptations. Sorry, can’t find one without the subtitles. Subtitles just annoy me.

And remember, “The dead travel fast.”

Vampire Tarot Magician


Posted in 20th Century/Modern Classical, film scores, Holidays, movies, music, Oregon, Portland

Festival of Carols


The annual tradition of the Festival of Carols begins tomorrow on Portland’s classical station, KQAC. They play the most beautiful Christmas music composed through the ages, so many pieces and arrangements that you’ve likely never heard. It’s four days of non-stop glorious music so if, like me, you’ve had all  you can stand of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and need some real music, tune in online at and go to “Listen” at the top of the page.

Also tonight at 8:00PM PST on their program Club Mod, Robert McBride will be featuring some music by one of my favorite composers, Morten Lauridsen. Club Mod showcases modern ‘classical’ composers. Lauridsen is a particular favorite of mine, and it doesn’t hurt that he hails from this area (Beaverton). If you’re not familiar with Lauridsen, check here for a small intro.

Edmund Stone’s movie music program “The Score” will feature music from movies about Santa Claus on “A Right Jolly Old Elf” today at 2PM PST (and will repeat next Sunday at 2PM PST).

Check out all their programming. And no, I don’t work for the station, but I am a long-time supporter. I’ve listened to a lot of classical stations around the country (sadly there aren’t many left) and I think they’re one of the finest. They’re also commercial-free (apart from the old-style mentions of supporters by the hosts) which is LOVELY.

Happy Holidays, Blessed Solstice, and Merry Christmas! Click the picture for an animated card.

Christmas card 2013 for blog

Posted in books, Holidays, movies, Office Life, writing

What Would Dickens Say?

The season of commercial excess is upon us, unfettered, in all it’s foul glory. Like a juggernaut, the exhortations to ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ come fast and furious now, and no matter how much we may bemoan the crass commercialization of this season, most of us will dutifully heed the call, in some measure. Stores opened on Thanksgiving Day this year to begin the buying frenzy, an unprecedented move that horrified and outraged many.

Scrooge would be so proud.

I caught part of “A Christmas Carol” on tv this afternoon and thought how little things have changed since Dickens’ time. Employers demanding people work on Thanksgiving… can working on Christmas Day be far behind? Sure, there have always been those who had to work regardless of holiday – emergency services like police, firemen, nurses, doctors, military. When I was in the Navy I stood watch on Christmas Eve, although I admit I don’t recall if I ever worked Christmas Day itself. If I had to, I did. We were very flexible with our festivities. I remember a large gathering at the house I rented off-base with three others while in Okinawa. Our whole group of friends gathered at our place to exchange gifts and share a meal. It was one of the loveliest Christmases I ever spent. I don’t remember what day it was, likely not Christmas Day itself.

Since that time I’ve never worked on a major holiday, but my current boss would probably like for us all to. The child labor that Dickens campaigned against and the atrocious working conditions of his time may be (mostly) gone in the First World, but they are alive and well and being exploited on a daily basis around the world: Mumbai, Shenzhen, Sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan…

Scrooge learned his lesson on putting money above all else, but that attitude is encouraged and expected at all US businesses. It’s all about the bottom line, profit, keeping the shareholders and Board of Directors happy. My boss allows no mention of “Christmas” or any specifically Christmas-themed decorations (when I left last Tuesday I noticed a large tree in front of one of the buildings on campus strung with holiday lights, and thought “that’s gonna chap her ass…”) so we are having a ‘Winter Celebration’ in lieu of a ‘Christmas’ or even ‘Holiday’ party this week. I wonder how she’d feel if she knew she had a pagan in the office. I want a Yule tree, and a Yule log, and lots of holly and ivy and mistletoe, and lots of wassailing…

I have to think Dickens would be none too pleased. We’ve learned nothing, we haven’t evolved one bit since his book was published in 1843. Cash (or credit) is still king. The rich get richer.

In the meantime, enjoy what I consider the definitive version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “Scrooge” from 1951, starring Alastair Sim. Just wonderful. And whatever you’re celebrating, have a happy.


Wæs Hæl! (Be you healthy!)

Posted in books, dystopia, History, movies, random thoughts, science fiction, science fiction, Steampunk, writing

Are We Becoming Eloi?

tm_morlocksphinxThe Eloi were, of course, the child-like, cattle-like race of humans in H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” They didn’t do anything except sit around in the sun, eat the food and wear the clothes provided to them by mysterious means without even wondering where they came from. They were used as food by the Morlocks, a debased, deformed branch of humanity who dwelled underground and still ran the machines.

Sometimes it amazes me the things ancient people figured out how to do.

Who figured out that putting the seeds in the ground would result in a plant later on?

Who thought up shoes?

Or how to make glass?

We have it so easy now. Most of the heavy lifting was done for us millennia ago. Sure, researchers are still finding cures for diseases, new medications, but who figured out way back when that willow bark tea was good for headaches, or that putting spiderwebs on a cut could stop bleeding? They didn’t have universities to study at and huge libraries or textbooks at their disposal to look these things up. We’re just building on what those nameless, faceless people of yesteryear were clever enough to discover on their own.

Take for instance these traditional Sami reindeer boots. Ok, by the time these were invented people had probably been wearing something on their feet for awhile. But as Thor points out:

Bellingskaller have soles with two leather pieces where the hairs are facing each other so that one does not slip so easily.

Brilliant. These days, we have heavy-duty winter boots with cleats in them for that purpose, or you can get the kind that attach over any shoes or boots, like tire chains for shoes.

Look at how much time we spend playing games. People devote hours of their daily lives to playing computer games, sports, or any of a thousand other things that have no purpose. Recreation. Leisure. Downtime. Vacation. We’ve evolved to be able to include these things in our lives since most of our basic needs – food, shelter, clothing – are taken care of (at least for most of us). Daily life is not a struggle to track herds of wild aurochs across the open plain to find food for the tribe.


Don’t get me wrong, I like my comforts as much as anybody. I like being able to flip a switch and have the lights come on, or turn a dial to cook something. I’m no survivalist (most of whom really wouldn’t be able to survive long without a lot of the trappings of civilization like guns or forged steel blades, and I doubt most of them would be able to make their own clothes), but is there a tipping point where we will become so pampered that we will become the cattle? So dependent on some unseen source for food and clothing that we don’t even question it? Or have we already passed that point? I’d say here in America there are those for whom that’s true. While I realize there are other places in the world where basic survival is still the goal, our focus (at least here in the Western hemisphere) is on ‘enjoying life.’

So watch out you Eloi – the Morlocks are getting hungry.


Posted in movies, Oregon, photography, Portland, random thoughts, writing

Watch the Birdy

Quite by accident, I found a movie on cable about fanatical bird watchers, called “The Big Year.”  The_Big_Year_PosterThe movie came out in 2011 but I think it probably escaped most peoples’ notice. It was listed as a comedy, but from what I saw of it, it wasn’t all that funny. It was interesting, however, if you have any interest in birds at all. It’s about three guys who are going for the record for the most bird species spotted in a single calendar year: Stu Priess (played by Steve Martin), Brad Harris (played by Jack Black) and the most determined of them all, Kenny Bostick (played by Owen Wilson). These guys drop whatever they’re doing to catch sightings of elusive birds to add to their lists. Preiss mentors Harris, and they become good friends, while Bostick is just ruthless about trying to win the record as the best birder in the world. I won’t spoil the movie for you, but if you’re a bird enthusiast at all you’ll probably like this movie. I’m really enjoying Steve Martin’s work in the last few years. I almost think he sort of wasted himself doing comedy, as he’s really a fine actor.

So that said, I can’t say I’m an avid birder, but I do like knowing which species I have in my own backyard and in my area. It kind of surprises me how little people know about the natural world right in their own yards anymore. For many years I kept a number of feeders filled on my back deck to feed my fine-feathered friends and they politely came and cleaned them out. Unfortunately I’m no longer able, financially or temporally able to keep up, except for the hummingbird feeder. But over the years here are some of the birds I’ve been fortunate enough to have visit my yard:

Pine siskin  They’re very small, like a dainty sparrow

Evening Grosbeak  These guys show up in flocks, fill the trees and proceed to deafen you with their loud whistling calls.

Oregon junco I call them the executioners because they look like they’re wearing an executioner’s hood. But they’re really sweet and shy.

Cedar Waxwing cedar waxwing3

Steller’s Jay. Loud, obnoxious typical jays.

Robins who back east are a harbinger of spring, actually show up here in the winter. They’re quite striking with their pretty red breasts sitting in the snow.

Red-winged blackbirds. I think they have just about the prettiest song of any bird I’ve ever heard. This photo isn’t in my yard, but I did take it. I do get a lot of these guys in the yard, they’re just hard to photograph.


Goldfinches. Nothing like the sight of a pink-flowering dogwood filled with bright yellow goldfinches. I wish I’d gotten a picture of it before I lost the dogwood tree. It fell over in a snow storm one year, apparently victim to a disease that’s killing dogwoods around the country.

Bald eagles.Nice eagle   Ok, they’re not actually in my yard, although they nest not far from me and occasionally will honor me with a fly-over.

Red-tailed hawks They circle around a lot, and twice I’ve seen them take down a bird in my yard. Once was last October while I was on the front porch hanging up the lights, and WHOOSH, right in the yard, not ten feet from me. I froze, I didn’t know what to do. He stayed there awhile, but I must have flinched because he finally took his prize and flew off with it in his talons.

Flickers. They’re big, part of the woodpecker family. You’ll see them on the ground a lot, digging in the dirt though.

Red-breasted nuthatches and white-breasted nuthatches. Screwy birds, they like to hang upside down a lot. Gravity seems to mean very little to them.

Black-capped chickadees. If you stand really still with sunflower seeds in your hand they’ll actually hop into your hand and take the seeds. THEY’RE SO CUTE! I love those little guys.

Ring-necked pheasant. I haven’t seen this guy for awhile, but still hear him (or one of his progeny) occasionally. And yes, this was taken in my backyard. It’s freaking Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom here.


And of course loads of blackbirds, woodpeckers, sparrows, hummingbirds.


I’m sure I’ve missed a number of others. I really should start a bird journal.

Posted in movies, Outerspace, Planets, Space, writing

In Saturn’s Rings

Space geeks, ahoy! This one’s for us. This is an amazing movie put together by amateur filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren, using over a million photos culled from more than fifteen different sources, including Apollo missions 8 – 17, the Hubble telescope, Voyagers 1 & 2, and of course the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. From the web site:

The first idea for “In Saturn’s Rings” was born in the early hours of the morning, July 1st, 2004 when the Cassini-Huygens Mission arrived at Saturn.

Ignored by broadcast television networks, the arrival was only live on NASA TV’s web stream. As I saw the first raw photographs come down, I was blown away by their sublime beauty. “If only we had a film or video camera their – then people would really get excited.” was the first thought that went through my mind.

But all we have is still photographs. Thousands of incredible photographs…like the many photos from the Apollo lunar missions, the photographs are both proof of we’re we’ve been and a way to try to capture the jaw-dropping beauty of the Universe. But unlike Apollo, no astronauts took the pictures, no humans have ever been to Saturn. That’s probably why the media largely ignored this incredible mission and many of us feel little connection to robotic missions that explore these distant worlds.

Yes, these are all REAL photos, there’s no CGI involved. Full-screen it to watch, although you’ll need a really fast connection to watch in the original 4K (I watch it in the default setting of 360 and it brings tears to my eyes every time). This is the closest I will get to actual space travel. AND IT’S KILLING ME.

Even on my little laptop the clarity and depth are breathtaking. There are a few other clips at the site you can watch as well.

The filmmaker is raising funds for this, a modest budget of $225,000 (compared to the $6M usually needed for an IMAX release). As of this writing their counter looks like they’re at about $120K, so nearly halfway there. They’re targeting a 2014 release. If you want to donate you can do so here. There’s also a newsletter you can sign up for (of course I did) here. The movie is dedicated to Carl Sagan and Stanley Kubrick.

When I see something like this, knowing I will never go to the stars or make contact with an alien race, I feel like penning a letter to those other races who I feel sure are out there and say I’m sorry I never had the chance to meet you, to learn from you, to understand you, to share part of this journey of life with you. Whatever stupid things humanity may inflict on the rest of the cosmos in the coming aeons, think kindly of those of us who desperately wanted to be good cosmic citizens.

I get the same feeling when I watch “Contact.” Then I go outside, look up at the stars and wave to Vega. Y’know, just in case.

Posted in fantasy, film scores, History, Holidays, horror, movies, music, Tarot, Vampires, writing

Weekly Card, A Bit Late

Hermit The Hermit from Ian Daniels Tarot of Vampyres. I’ve felt like a hermit the last few days, locking myself in the house to get the revisions done on the vampire novel and sent off to beta readers. I’ve also been OD’ing on “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and its soundtrack while I write. Seems fitting on this Memorial Day. Even though it’s a fantasy/horror story, the scenes of the Gettysburg battle and Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address choked me up. There’s a part of the battle scene that slows, focused on one Union soldier running ahead to engage the Confederate troops, and it’s really quite heartbreaking, nicely filmed.

And look, the card has a wolf on it, and the book talks about this card indicating being a ‘lone wolf.’ :::smacks self in forehead::: It’s a time for introspection, silence, going within yourself for the answers, being isolated. Vampires are outsiders, ‘others.’ What they seek is beyond the confines of everyday mass consumerism. The Hermit contains all four elements, fire (scepter), grail (water, the vessel containing the fire. Grails can hold many things), knife for air, and skulls for earth, all this gained by his journey to the Underworld. The wolf is there to guard the entrance. This is the time to complete a journey, a mission, a quest (the story?).

There’s a need to ignore the rest of the world, don’t be distracted by all the banalities of modern society. As they told the Tie fighters in Star Wars making their run on the Death Star, “Stay on target.” Well, I have one more day off before I head back to the grind. Head down, back to editing.

Enjoy some solitude and downtime this week if you can.

Posted in film scores, historical fiction, horror, movies, music, Vampires, writing

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

But what the hey, eh?

This weekend has been all editing, all the time. I’m working on the vampire novel, prepping it for a volunteer beta reader, and consequently going over it all AGAIN. I’m happy to report that the scenes that made me tear up or laugh as I was writing them are still having that effect. While that may seem like a strange barometer to a non-writer, as I’m sure you’re all thinking all writers love their own writing, and that’s often true, there’s also the maxim that if your writing doesn’t sweep you away, it won’t have that effect on your readers either. If you don’t love what you’re writing, it’s likely no one else will.

:::disjointed segue – ENGAGE!:::

I often get inspired by music, so it’s not that much of a stretch for me to hear a soundtrack running in my head as I write. So THEN I got to thinking (as all writers do at some point, I’m sure. It can’t just be me) if my book were to be made into a movie, who would I want to do the soundtrack for it? Yeah yeah, I know, if it were to come to pass I’m sure I’d have no actual say in it, but I can dream can’t I?

So mostly I’d want a pretty hard rock soundtrack, but there are scenes in the book that would call for something more atmospheric, creepy, romantic, more cerebral stuff. Even some classical. Right now I’m all hung up on the soundtrack to “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” I know, I know, believe me no one is more surprised than I am that I liked this movie. But there are some really strong performances in it. Rufus Sewell is tremendous as he always is, with a wonderfully nuanced role as an evil vampire. Dominic Cooper is the next heartthrob ladies, as Henry Sturgess. I expected this to be a silly, frothy comedic romp, but there are few really light moments. It’s not heavy drama, certainly, with such a ridiculous premise but it’s so much better than I expected. The cinematography is really beautiful, the lighting and color in the scene when Abraham proposes to Mary is striking. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is adorable and charming as Mary Todd, and later in the film has a great scene as the grieving mother when their son dies (hardly a spoiler if you know anything about history). Marton Csokas is wonderfully vile as Jack Barts.

Anyway, the soundtrack is by Henry Jackman, and you can hear a lot of Hans Zimmer’s influence in a number of places. Unfortunately I can’t find a clip of the segment that I really love. It’s during the fight scene on top of the train and the music swells to a majestic and poignant orchestration of the theme. It’s quite beautiful, I wish it was longer. I can’t even find that it’s included on the soundtrack CD which makes me sad.

Anyway, along with the orchestral soundtrack, most movies have other pieces written and performed by bands added in (Linkin Park contributed the end titles theme with their song “Powerless”).

So what bands would you like to write songs for your movie? For me, I’d want Rubylux  (their new single, “The World Goes Quiet” just dropped on iTunes, check it out

provided they’re not too famous and busy by then, HIM of course, maybe some Avatar (Torn Apart would work really well in one scene), or Black Veil Brides (love their latest In the End). Argh. So I’ve spent the whole day checking out music. Now, back to editing. I’ll try to get a Tarot card for the week posted tomorrow.

Addendum 5/27/2013: This is too fun, I have to share this – Rubylux is on board for the soundtrack!


Posted in art, books, fantasy, miniatures, movies, writing

More Miniature Madness

This makes me want to quit my day-job and do this full-time (if only one could get paid for efforts such as this).

Only one shot here, but do go check out the whole blog post at Madshobbithole’s blog. It’s breathtaking.

Bag End mini

(thanks to Margrét Helgadóttir @MaHelgad)

UPDATED 1/27/13: I should have added, if you want to see more mind-blowing miniatures, see my first Miniature Mania and  Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago, and the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Posted in film scores, movies, music, Tarot, writing

Looking Back, and Ahead

So. Trying to get back into the groove here and get something posted. I imagine most of us are still reeling from Friday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve found it hard to think about much else, myself. So this afternoon I indulged in some escapism and watched “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” Not one of the cheerier films in the series and possibly not the best choice, maybe I should have stuck to Jane Austen. And did I mention today is Jane’s birthday? (It’s also the birthday of Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick.)


The world was so much simpler then, wasn’t it? Jane never traveled more than 20 miles from her home and yet what a legacy she left.

I love the piano piece in this scene from the 1995 Emma Thompson film version of “Sense and Sensibility’. Bizarrely and inexplicably on the movie soundtrack CD it’s played by a full orchestra, destroying the charm and simplicity of the piece. Sometimes I put the CD on just to listen to this beautiful melody. It’s called “My Father’s Favorite.” Most of the renditions I found online of someone plinking it out on the ivories was less than satisfactory, hence the movie clip.

Anyway, let’s have a card for the week ahead.

Six of Wands

The Six of Wands from the Victorian Romantic Tarot. Seems to fit in with the time period of Jane’s life. Soldiers returning in a triumphal parade, clearly victorious, being cheered by the watching crowds. Wands are Fire, creative energy, with the balance of the six here. The white horse is indicative of purity of intent. This could mean recognition of efforts, being admired, basking in the attention of others. Just don’t let it go to your head.

I drew this card first, wasn’t happy with it and tried shuffling and pulling a couple more times before I decided to go back to this one and go with it. I was hoping for a less martial image, but I find it’s usually best to go with what the cards decide to talk about. It’s a good card, no doubt about that.

Wishing you all victory and success this week.