Website Repairs and Podcast Reduxes
A few long time friends and/or followers of this page might have noticed a couple of changes to this site over the years. I’m not just talking about the semi-once-a-decade sprucing up I do on the visuals (it is a nigh on 25 year old site, after all), or the shifting sands of content; no, I’m talking about the name of the site itself. Oh, it’s always been called Mister Herman’s Home Page–or, at least, phonetically it has–but the actual URL address has danced about when it comes to spelling.
For the first few years of its life, Mister Herman’s Home Page lived in the personal directory of whatever ISP would have me. The site initially served as a repository for funny Top Ten lists that I and my friends had written, in-joke-laced humor pieces, funny graphics I’d made, and more in-joke-laced recipes inspired by the things I used to cook and actually eat during college. Gradually, though, I began to add my writing to the mix, from early short stories, some of which made it into A Consternation of Monsters, to my signature non-fiction Horribly True Tales. The site began to fill out.
Trouble was, whenever I’d move to a new town and get a new internet provider, I’d have to move it all and the web address would change once again, as would my email address. After my 5th ISP change in so many years, though, I decided to bite the bullet and just get the site a permanent address. I bought the URL MisterHerman.com and pointed it to whatever ISP I was using at` the time. And I recall, at the time, debating whether to buy MrHerman.com as well, to avoid confusion, but decided to lean in to the full spelling that I preferred. And, not long after, I set up permanent hosting for the site via an official GoDaddy hosting account. Gone were the days of having to move the site with each new ISP.
Years passed and I decided owning MrHerman.com would be good after all. Alas, someone had beat me to it and set up their own web design service with that shingle. This was annoying, because I’d posted enough writing and told enough people the name of my site that I didn’t want folks to be waylaid on the way there by some Fake Shemp Mr. Herman. (And, let’s be clear, I’m fully aware that I’m the Fake Shemp Mister Herman and the site should really be owned by Pee Wee Herman himself. And if he’d ever like to have it, I’m quite open to discussing it and would cut him a fair price due to all the entertainment he’s given me over the years.) Instead, I just kept tabs on the Fake Shemp Herman. After a handful of years the name became available again and this time I didn’t dawdle in buying it.
More years passed, I wrote a book, and decided to spruce up my page to help market it and myself. I switched to WordPress, which I thought would be the uncomplicated, intuitive, and user-friendly solution to my web design needs. (Ahhh hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hah ha ha hah ha hah ha hah hah hah ha hah hahhhhh!) While setting up the new hot site, though, I pointed MrHerman.com to it, allowing MisterHerman.com to remain in its previous form until I was ready to go live. When I did, I just let MrHerman.com become the official new URL for the site, with MisterHerman as its redirecting shadow.
Part of my book promotion involved recording adaptations of a few of its stories as a podcast called the Consternation of Monsters Podcast. Still later, I did the whole thing as an audiobook, but I tend to prefer the podcast versions of the stories, which are not always straight-up word for word readings, but can branch out into stageplays, radioplays, and sound-effects-laden efforts. I spent a lot of time trying to get them right, as well as keeping up with the RSS feed for it so that people could listen to it from whatever podcast app they cared to use.
One day, a year or so ago, GoDaddy called to let me know they were going to be discontinuing the use of the server I was on and needed to migrate me to a new one. They suggested upgrading to CPanel hosting, which would offer me all the features I’d had before and more. Sure thing, I told them. Sign me up. They then said the would set up the new site for me and I could migrate my old site to it over the course of three months they were kind enough to give me, so the old site didn’t have to immediately go away. I told them to just use MisterHerman.com as the name of the new site, and I’d keep the old site as MrHerman until I could get it moved (just like last time, in reverse).
Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried to migrate one WP site to another location, but it’s devilishly tricky. And while there are a number of WordPress plugins that claim they do the migration for you, none of them actually work–or, at least, none of the half dozen I tried did. I really REALLY didn’t want to have to go through every page of code and change every listed addresses from Mr to Mister, though. Then GoDaddy told me that for a mere ten sawbucks–that’s a crisp $100, to you and me–they’d do the migration for me. Sounded like money well spent. I signed right up and within a couple of weeks the site had been moved. I checked a sampling of pages to make sure everything was still there and it seemed to be.
I should have checked more pages. The ones I checked were good, so I, sadly, trusted it all was.
That was months ago.
Recently, I happened to notice that my Consternation of Monsters Podcast was no longer working properly in my podcast aggregator app. I hadn’t looked at it for months–since the last new episode I’d done in 2018, really. But I saw a red triangle with an exclamation point on the show graphic and knew something was amiss. What do you suppose I discovered? Oh, just that while my site had been successfully moved and most of the MRs had been changed to MISTERs, a number–and not a small number–of them had not. In particular, the file of the podcast feed itself was choked with MRs. I can understand GoDaddy not checking such a file, which was not a part of WordPress to begin with, but quite a few links within the site itself, which was WordPress, referred back to the old MrHerman addresses. More horribly true still, I soon discovered that all of my Horribly True Tales stories were listed with the old addresses on their table of contents pages. It seems that while each individual page was switched from MR to MISTER, any page with in-house links to pages on the site did not have any alterations made to its code in this regard.
Super long story short, I’ve been doing some site work this to restore the podcast and its feed to their former glory, as well as all the other broken links on the site. (If you happen to one, how bout drop me a line about it at efritzius AT gmail DOT com).
After much code-work and testing, the podcast is back up and its episodes restored. You can find them all at the main Consternation of Monsters Podcast page, as well as links to blog entries about the stories adapted themselves.
And I can reveal there will soon be news about new episodes in the new year.
EPISODE 08: “The Hocco Makes the Echo” a recorded live reading [REDUX]
Rob Hughes thought his kid was a genius–or, if not a genius, at least a very smart boy. Aaron was only five years old and already he could tie his shoes, count to 120, identify pictures of animals in books and recognize the constellation of Orion. Sure, he referred to it as `Oh-wyan,’ but he knew it when he saw it.
Aaron was possessed of a powerful imagination, one which was sometimes frustrating to Rob, particularly when it clashed with reality as he knew it. But imagination and belief can be a powerful thing. Civilizations have risen and fallen due to it. Rob Hughes is about to learn a few lessons about the power of belief, and of the thing that feeds on it, stalking the woods near his in-laws’ farm.
This recorded live reading was captured on August 21, 2015, during a signing event at the Book Mart & Cafe in downtown Starkville, MS.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 08: “The Hocco Makes the Echo”
LINKS TO HOW TOPICS AND BLOG ENTRIES
EPISODE 07: “Nigh” (a live reading) [REDUX]
The end of the world is an event that has been predicted for millennia. It is always on the horizon, but so far has not come to pass. Mr. Daniels, however, has his own prediction and, unless he’s wrong, the danger of the end of the world is very real indeed.
And it just might begin at Starbucks.
This live-reading of “Nigh” was recorded at the 2015 Summer Conference of West Virginia Writers, Inc., on June 12, 2015.
This podcast adapts the short story “Nigh” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters.
DOWNLOAD: EPISODE 07: “Nigh” (a live reading) [REDUX]
Blog Entry “Nigh on the Shortest Story in the Whole Book”
Podcast Recommendation: The Dork Forest
Karen & Kira Can Read Podcast
EPISODE 06: “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk” REDUX
The Mexican Gray wolf is among the rarest of North American wolf species. Few humans have seen them, fewer still have heard them growl, and far fewer have heard the pangs of hunger from the stomach of one.
One old man, seated on the cliff of an Arizona mesa, could possibly lay claim to all three of these feats if only he could be bothered to pay attention. He is a puzzle that most of the local wolves have given up on–save for one. The strange, silent, unmoving, and seemingly invulnerable old man makes for the ultimate unattainable prey, as the wolf’s own teeth (chipped from previous attempts) are a constant reminder.
When more men arrive at the mesa, the wolf’s frustration and hunger give way to hope–if only he can survive against these two-legged predators, intent on harming one of their own.
This podcast adapts the short story “Wolves Among Stones At Dusk” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters, available in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 06: “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk”
(Album art for this episode is called “Anakin #100” and is copyright Felipe Zamora, used under creative commons license 2.0)
Wolfy Origin Blog Entries: Quentin Tarantino Vs. Jack London
The book blogging website BooksGoSocial.com has posted an interview with me.
Check it out at THIS LINK.
EPISODE 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play (live from the Pocahontas County Opera House)
The Mothman of West Virginia is reported to be a winged creature, the size of a man, but with glowing red eyes. There have been a few plays written about this creature. This is one of them.
Presenting the stage adaptation of Eric Fritzius’s short story “…to a Flame” as recorded during its performance during the Opera House PlayFest, at the Pocahontas County Opera House, in Marlinton, W.Va., in 2016.
The adaptation stars John C. Davis as Jeff, Dwayne Kennison as Virgil Hawks, and the author himself as Rik Winston.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play
WATCH: “…to a Flame” the stage play on YouTube
ASSOCIATED BLOG ENTRIES
A Consternation of Monsters (audiobook)
The Black Star of Kingston (audiobook narrated by Eric Fritzius)
EPISODE 04: “Old Country” a Live Radio Adaptation REDUX
Episode 04 of the REDUX version of the Consternation of Monsters Podcast features a recording of a live radio adaptation of the short story “Old Country” as found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters.
On a day in 1983, Martin Riscili receives the most important phone call of his life. His late father’s mobster “associate,” Jimmy Jambalaya, has just phoned to alert Martin to his imminent death by Jimmy’s own hand. His house is watched. His phone line is dead. Jimmy’s on his way. And the only thing Martin can think of that might yet save his life is his grandmothers’ quilt.
If only he could remember where he put it.
A story of crime and punishment and contractual terms with forces beyond our understanding.
This is a live radio-style adaptation was recorded live on October 12, 2015, at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, W Va. It stars Sarah Elkins as Melissa, Shane Miller as Martin, the author himself as Tino and The Warrior, and a special appearance by Dr. AC as Jimmy Jambalaya.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 04: “Old Country” a live radio adaptation REDUX
Limited Editions Opened
My most recent Consternation of Monsters podcast features an excerpt from my short story “Limited Edition.” And by excerpt, I mean about half of it.
Though it is the longest story to be found in A Consternation of Monsters, it is also probably one that was one of the quickest for me to develop because the core idea for it arrived in my head close to fully formed. Though I hinted at this recently in my interview with J.D. Byrne, there’s a little more to tell about the story.
For a while in the early oughts, I was a part of an email writing and critique group consisting of several writer friends of mine from college. And because it began in the year 2000, and we all loved David Fincher movies, we were obliged to call ourselves Write Club. (And subsequently make the joke “First rule about Write Club is… well, you know,” let’s say 480 times.) For a handful of years there, we took turns issuing monthly writing challenges to one another, with solid, umovable deadlines that often became less solid as they approached. But eventually the deadline would fall and fall solidly and we were honor bound to turn something in for the others to critique. Early drafts of a few of the stories in Consternation were spawned by this method, including “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” “Nigh,” “Old Country,” and, of course, “Limited Edition.” In fact, I give credit to the very Write Club member who dreamed up the prompt that brought “Limited Edition” into being as part of the dedication to Consternation. “…to Joe Evans, my ideal reader, who also gave me the line about the fork.”
The “line about the fork” was a simple one. It was Joe’s turn to issue a writing prompt to the rest of us and his was this: we were to write a story that must include the phrase “Something told him that in all the world, there was no other fork quite like this one.”
As a writer, I’ve had a handful of what I call Blues Brothers moments in which I–much like Jake Blues in the church at the beginning of The Blues Brothers–receive, seemingly from on high, a direct transmission of knowledge propelling me on a mission from God and/or from my subconscious. These are magical moments in which a mosaic of images and information seem to fall into place in my head and my visualization and imagination centers go into overdrive as they struggle to process the info dump they’ve just received. In the moment, I feel almost pinned in place by the celestial beam from above.
An instant after I read Joe’s line about the fork, one of those Blues Brothers moments happened to me. I was pinned in place in my office chair and suddenly knew exactly what the fork in his sentence meant, the implied-yet-still-loose-enough-to-maneuver-in backstory of not only it but similar and related objects, how this fork would come into the story, who would possess it, who would want it, and a the most logical and fun setting in which such a story would occur. I also knew which pre-existing character of mine would also be appearing in it, due to the fact that her known occupation–as seen in “The Wise Ones”–synced up nicely with the subject-matter. I even knew why she would be there. Those were the basic beats that fell into my head and those beats never changed throughout the writing process. (I take such gifts from my subconscious quite seriously and try not to deviate from their structures, lest I do damage to plot points put into motion of which I may not yet be entirely aware. I’m a firm believer that my brain is smarter than I am and that it’s often watching out for me when I’m not paying attention.)
Now, it’s one thing to say that a story fell into your head and another thing to write it. There are all sorts of details about the story that I was not given in my Blues Brother’s Moment download, which I would have to either imagine or, as turned out to be the case, heavily research. My setting for the story, granted to me by my noggin, was a tour stop for the American version of the Antiques Roadshow–the public television show in which antiques appraisers offer commentary and assign value to items brought in by the general public. It was a show I liked, though not one I was in the habit of regularly watching at the time being as how I didn’t get PBS. However, I adored the BBC America broadcasts of the original UK version, so I was familiar with the basic format. Fortunately, there’s quite a bit of information about the show and its mechanics to be found online. Quite a bit. I was able to learn how it was shot, how the tour worked, who the appraisers were, who the hosts have been, who the executive producers are, how the antiques that made it onto camera were chosen, how many items actually made it to camera in a given stop, how the antiques were categorized for review, and, most amusingly, which practically worthless antiques repeatedly turn up in the mitts of folks who hope and fervently believe they are about to become fabulously wealthy. (At the time of my research, it seemed to be the one that turns up in the opening paragraphs of the story.) In fact, there was so much information about the show that I decided I didn’t really need all that much, beyond a few key pieces to help establish the tone of the setting, and the sort of locations the show is usually filmed within.
I also had to research my basic subject: the fork. We take forks for granted because in the U.S. we’ve never experienced a time when they were not in our lives on a daily basis. And it was the ubiquitous nature of the fork that suggested further plot avenues to take, given the nature of the fork in question. (Which, I’m a little embarrassed to say, does not actually make an appearance in the podcast excerpt. You’ll have to buy the book to learn what’s up with it.) I had to know how and when the fork actually came into common use as an eating utensil–because it struck me as logical that human beings basically just used their hands to feed themselves for most of our existence. Still, the fork is such a universally useful tool that it also had to be a very very old one. And it is. So much so that I could find no origin point for it, though the historical record gave me a date range in which they came into more common use at the dinner table–which was around the same time that the dinner table also came into popular use. The research also yielded some fun little factoids, such as the amount of suspicion heaped upon the table fork for many years after its introduction, due to its very existence being an afront to God himself by daring to improve upon the hands he had already given us.
My main character of the story, antiques appraiser C. Phillips Hovelan, walked into it mostly formed. He wasn’t a direct part of the Blues Brothers Moment, but his presence was suggested and his personality felt right. He isn’t based on anyone in particular, though he does remind me of a particularly acerbic college professor I once had. I’ve certainly never seen any appraisers on Antiques Roadshow who were such outright assholes as Phil in the story. He just seemed like the sort of character archetype who would fit the situation, and one who would be a nice foil to the other main character, my old friend Miss Zeddie.
Until I wrote “Limited Edition,” Miss Zeddie was exclusively known as either Madam Z or Omega–names revealed in other stories found in Consternation and elsewhere. The trouble is, my fellow Write Clubbers were all also co-creators in a collective fictional universe we developed over a period of years during college to serve as the setting for various role-playing game adventures. A core of three of us, Joe Evans, Sujay Shaunak, and Marcus Hammack, actually ran the RPG adventures as game-masters and each of them were in charge of their own corner of the universe. I was not a game-master, but I love to world-build and set about creating extensive databases and timelines for the characters and concepts we encountered during our games. Eventually, Sujay and I spun things off into prose stories to help fill in some gaps in our storytelling that weren’t so easy to accomplish in the games themselves.
Madam Z had first appears as a non-player character in a couple of our games. She was a wise and mysterious old woman who served to guide us during an adventure or two. And she’d been created (as I detail in my recent interview) by Marcus Hammack–who I also thank in the dedication. I was enchanted with her from the start, thinking Marcus had these grand plans for her, and imagining what her backstory might be. Only later did I learn that he had basically come up with her on the spot, had no grand plans for her at all, nor any notion of what her backstory might be. As disappointing as this was, it was to my gain, because after Marcus graduated and left town I kind of inherited her for use in my prose stories.
Because my fellow Write Clubbers would recognize her immediately, though, if I called her Madam Z, I decided she needed a secret identity for the story–one which would definitely hint at her true identity for them, but maybe not on first appearance. I called her Miss Zeddie. They could figure out it was her, of course, but maybe not at first, just as readers of Consternation might not know at first that she’s the same old woman from another story.
Z’s true backstory will be revealed at another time and in another story. (I only gave Joe Evans a glimpse at her earliest origins this past summer when I slipped him a 100 word short story the very title of which is a spoiler. It had been a secret I’ve held for over two decades now. I figured I owed him.) Knowing Z’s backstory, knowing her major goals in her apparently very long life, I knew exactly what she would do if placed into this new story, given the other factors. In fact, I saw her having a much deeper role in the mechanics of the story itself. And, given the personality quirks of my main character, Hovelan, I knew how poorly the two of them would get on, which suggested other side stories to the main one, most of which is what the podcast excerpt covers.
As I researched and began writing, I found I had two stories that intertwined–the story of Hovelan and Zeddie, their bitter rivalry, their seeming ultimate showdown, and then the rematch over much higher stakes than either is entirely aware of; and the story of the fork.
And while there are three other important characters who appear in the story, two of which appear in the podcast excerpt, one of whom also makes an appearance elsewhere in Consternation. But I will leave the matter there for now. Everything you need to know is in the story itself and to write about any of them will run into spoiler territory. Just know that there are other stories featuring most of these characters, some of which have actually been written.
As for Write Club, that was something that just kind of stopped. I think we may have all collectively missed a deadline and were too embarrassed to acknowledge it. And, after all, there’s that whole first rule of Writer Club thing. (#481) We’ve actually talked about re-starting it over the years and occasionally one of us will tell another that it’s their turn to give a prompt. I expect we will sooner or later. It’s not a bad idea. I managed to get a handful of stories I’m proud of from the process, not to mention the sage advice on ways to improve them. With my upcoming collections in various stages of completion, perhaps it’s time to head back down into the warehouse basement with the boys and chalk up our hands for more bare-knuckle writing. (Maybe we’ll pick a better name next time.)
Author J.D. Byrne was kind enough to invite me to conduct an email interview with me for his blog.
We cover many subjects, including audiobooks, mechanics of genre stories versus non-genre (or mundane) stories, and the as yet unchronicled subject of the origin of the story in this week’s podcast, “Limited Edition,” as hinted at in the dedication of A Consternation of Monsters.
You can find it at his website, JDByrne.net and at the link below.
EPISODE 03: “Limited Edition”
The Consternation of Monsters Podcast returns with a story of bitter rivalries, stolen opportunities, forgery, and the angel of death, set in the cut throat world of public television antiques appraisal–a world in which one of the most powerful objects is a fork.
This podcast is an excerpt of the audiobook adaptation of the short story “Limited Edition” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 03: “Limited Edition”
EPISODE 02 REDUX: “The Ones that Aren’t Crows”
The Seward Whale Strike Tragedy, they called it. Twenty-five people dead. The worst accident in Alaska’s tourism history since Will Rogers’ plane went down in ‘35. Only one man left alive knows the truth of what really happened — the man everyone agrees caused the tragedy to start with. And if there’s one thing he’s sure of, the thing they hit that day was no whale.
Presented here is his testimony, as transcribed for an interview with Paranorm Violations Magazine.
This podcast adapts the short story “The Ones that Aren’t Crows” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 02: “The Ones that Aren’t Crows”
EPISODE 01 redux: “…to a Flame”
The Mothman of West Virginia is reported to be a winged creature, the size of a man, but with glowing red eyes. It was reportedly witnessed on multiple occasions around the area of Point Pleasant, W.Va., during the 1960s and has been reported around the world since. An ominous creature, its presence often seems to portend doom for those who see it.
When Virgil Hawks shoots one behind his tool shed, he knows the portents for his own future aren’t good. He seeks help from the one man he can trust… his good buddy Jeff.
This podcast adapts the short story “…to a Flame” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 01 redux: “…to a Flame”
ASSOCIATED BLOG ENTRIES
EPISODE 00: Foreword (REDUX 21)
The Consternation of Monsters Podcast is an ongoing project, adapting and excerpting a few of the stories found in the short story collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.
While many of these stories have been featured in the previous iteration of this podcast from 2015, this redux edition will feature new stories, new live readings and stage play adaptations, as well as excerpts from the official unabridged audiobook of the collection now available through Amazon.com, iTunes, and Audible.com.
This EPISODE 00 features the foreword to the book by noted paranormal radio host Rik Winston.
DOWNLOAD: Episode 00: Foreword
Associated Blog Entries
Skinwalker Waltz (a ghazal)
Beneath constellations sewn into night’s veil, we meet in the shadows,
Our motion disturbing only leaves, casting only moon shadows.
We turn gracefully in time to cricket song, our tails entwined,
Retracing the steps of solstices past, gliding through the shadows.
On all other nights, I dream only of this one. Of you. And of our
Two shapes blending into one among the trees and shadows.
We discard the vulpine forms we wear within our separate packs,
True faces revealed only to one another, under cover of shadows.
Spheric sun will soon pierce night’s veil, leaving us in its cruel light,
Tearing us, another year, from the warm embrace of the shadows.
Written by Eric Fritzius, author of the short story collection A Consternation of Monsters.
Art by Jorn Mork. Jorn is a Minnesota native living in Lewisburg ,W. Va. Jorn creates paintings, hand-colored etchings and etching constructions as well as whimsical mobiles and wall pieces. Her artwork is a reflection of her emotions as they relate to her family, nature, spirituality and her personal view the world. Jorn has exhibited nationally and has won numerous awards in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota and West Virginia.
This exhibit was part of the 2016 Lewisburg Literary Festival.
We’ve got review!
A new and stellar review of A Consternation of Monsters has just been posted at the review blog of playwright and writer Jason Half. I recently met him in Clarksburg at the West Virginia Playwrights Festival, where three of my plays received staged readings. I was stunned afterward when he told me that he’d traveled to Clarksburg from his home in Ohio specifically to see the stage adaptation of my story “…to a Flame” because he’d read A Consternation of Monsters, had enjoyed the original prose version there and wanted to see how it translated. My wife and I hardly had room in the car for the two of us and my swelled head after that.
Check out his review and his blog.
Nacho Typical Elvis Story
One of the oldest of my stories in A Consternation of Monsters is “The King’s Last Nacho.” Like “The Wise Ones,” which precedes it in the order of stories, this was one of the stories I first drafted during my college years at Mississippi State University. Unlike “The Wise Ones,” however, it did not begin life in a creative writing class, but started out in a different medium altogether–that of comic books.
I’ve aspired to have many careers in life, from detective to disc jockey (one of which I did for a few years and one of which I may one day achieve), but I can mark the moment in my life when I first wanted to become a comic book writer. It was the day I first read an article in Writers Digest by a man who would one day become one of my all time favorite television writers (though I’d seen some of his work already at that point), J. Michael Straczynski, creator and primary writer for the TV series Babylon 5. And, of course, the article he wrote was about the mechanics of writing scripts for comics.
Though I’ve been a life long fan of comics, I had only vaguely wondered at that point what the process of writing a comic book was like. I had long known that they were frequently a different person from the artist, and I was already a big fan of a handful of comic book writers, such as Keith Giffen, John Ostrander, Mark Evanier, Larry Hama, John Byrne, etc. I had even begun a budding fascination with the work of Alan Moore, but I’d had few aspirations in the comic writing arena myself. The Writers Digest issue, though, in which JMS explained his own learning process in writing his first ever comic book, issue #13 of Teen Titan’s Spotlight from 1987, was fascinating to me. The article featured examples of his script pages as they compared to the finished comic book pages, showing how the description of the action was written panel by panel, with dialogue added beneath that to show how many dialogue balloons would be in a given panel, etc. It was an article that I devoured and re-read dozens of times. It was really then that it dawned on me that there were folks in the world who wrote comic books for a living and I could possibly be one of them. I shortly set out to try and come up with ideas for comics.
I was initially inspired by books like Giffen’s Justice League International, which told oftentimes serious stories, but the humorous take on the characters provided by Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and artist Kevin Maguire. Since DC and Marvel would pay the most, I tried to think of stories for existing DC Comics characters. (The one I remember of these was a grim & gritty version of DC’s The Inferior Five, which begins years after they broke up; Merryman has been institutionalized, Dumb Bunny turned out to be a scientific genius who had been chemically suppressing her intellect, and the Blimp went missing after floating into the Bermuda Triangle.) Later on, once I’d read such works as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Sandman, and had Grant Morrison forcibly expand my horizons in his run on Doom Patrol, I began to think a bit more broadly than deconstructionist parody.
Now, I’d been making up my own comic book style characters for years, so I had original properties to my name. One of these characters was a guy called The Kindred Spirit. He was inspired by such mysterious trench-coaty types as The Phantom Stranger, but with the twist that he was just this slobby, cigar-chomping fat guy, whose trench coat was stained and whose hat was burnt. It’s what would happen if the Phantom Stranger were played by the guy who played Ekhardt in Tim Burton’s Batman, and with a little Columbo thrown in for good measure. In my initial conception of him, he was either an angel or the closest thing to one, and was an agent of a cosmic/possibly heavenly organization called The Higher Power, though he would occasionally freelance. Mostly, he was a down to earth guy who knew the secrets of the universe, but wasn’t an asshole about it. He traversed the cosmos through the use of a bottle of dimension fluid, which, when poured upon the ground in a circle, could open portals to other realms, or span vast distances. I imagined that he knew all the other big enlightened and ascended master types in the universe, but none of them really liked him much. Not that he cared. They were too stuffy for him. He was more interested in smoking, drinking and having adventures.
Some time in the mid 1990s, Gun Dog Comics, the formerly existing comic shop in Starkville, MS, decided to get into the publishing business. They next announced that they were putting together an anthology book with different writers and artists. Rob Snell, co-owner of Gun Dog, asked me if I’d be interested in submitting something. I think I suggested the name of the only comic artist I knew, Eric Yonge, a guy I went to high school whose work was fantastic and who I’d wanted to work with since first seeing his spot-on cartoon sketches of our math teacher, Mr. Murphy, which he’d drawn on Mr. Murphy’s overhead projector. Turns out, they already knew Eric and had recruited him way before me.
I decided Kindred Spirit was the character to use for my comic submission. And my story idea was to have Kin take a freelance bounty-hunting gig to recapture the very much alive Elvis Presley, who had escaped back to Earth. (Remember, this was only a few years after a major wave of the whole Elvis faked his death theories were in the news.) And, for reasons I’m not entirely clear on now, I decided to set this faceoff at a professional wrestling match in Memphis. I started writing.
The Snells were shooting for an anthology of 8-page comic stories. I tried to cram as much of mine into those 8 pages as possible, but there’s a lot of conversation that just couldn’t fit. Rob, an artist himself, pointed out that I was going to have to leave some room in the comic panels for actual art at some point, so I was going to have to do some serious editing of my dialogue. I turned in a few drafts which were kicked back to me for more editing. I begged for more pages, but wisely they refused. If I couldn’t tell the story in 8 pages then it wasn’t a story they wanted. Eventually I managed to turn in a draft that Rob said was getting closer to workable, but still had a ways to go. (Somewhere, I’m sure I have a 3.5″ floppy that contains this gem of a story. Or, possibly even a 5.25″ diskette, as I think I was still writing on a Kaypro 4 back then. What I don’t seem to have is a paper script I can lay hands on.)
At some point, the Snells decided to put the idea of a comic anthology on the back burner. I suspect they realized that if they had an artist as talented as Eric Yonge on hand, what they needed to be doing was publishing more of his work. He’d already done some small press comics for them about a secret agent character he’d created called Gunner. Gun Dog bumped this up to a full size comic, published it, distributed it through Diamond and made a nationally released book of it. Ultimately, they published a few issues of Gunner, all of which I bought. The anthology comic, though, remained on the back burner of their creative stove. And then the stove itself was eventually sold and Gun Dog closed its doors in the early 2000s. (Fun fact: Gun Dog also published the first mini-series of Larry Young’s Astronauts in Trouble: Live from the Moon in 1999, which eventually was republished under it’s creator’s own publishing company, AIT/Planet Lar.)
Having the basic idea for this story that refused to fit into 8 pages, though, I decided to let it stretch its legs a bit as a prose story. I took my original draft, with all the sprawling dialogue, and wrote around it even more sprawling prose description. I threw everything against the wall, every commentary on human nature I possessed in my wee, college junior, 21-year-old mind, as well as jokes about Elvis movies that I hadn’t even seen at that point, some of which turned out to be wildly inaccurate. (There ARE clams seen in Clambake, for instance. Somewhere along the way, I heard that there were not and thought the irony funny. Irony only works well, though, when it is shown against the context of reality.) There were more nacho jokes, too, with an extended sequence in which Kindred Spirit craves Elvis’s last nacho in a bad way and Elvis holds it to his mouth, threatening to consume it for most of a page before crushing the fat man’s hopes by eating it. That got toned down later. The wrestling match, which had been generic in the original comic script, became another layer in the storytelling with the addition of real life wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler. (Cedric Hinds is an echo of a no-name mid-`90s wrestler named Edric Hines, about whom I can no longer find references online–meaning he’s REALLY no name now.) In the end, it was essentially the same story as my comic script idea, but the method of achieving it is a little different. Probably my favorite change from the original version to the prose story is the title. I don’t recall my original title for the comic story, if it even had one, but “The King’s Last Nacho” landed and stuck hard.
I’ve revised the story a number of times over the years since then, going back to Rob Snell’s advice to edit, edit and reedit. It was reduced from an indulgent 25 pages, down to 21 pages, and then down to 18 while doing final edits for the collection. The major decision I had, though, was whether or not to include it in the collection at all. Those of you who’ve read it might be under the impression the my dilemma was due to the story containing no monsters; just Elvis, a fat cosmic guy, a couple of wrestlers and an arena full of spectators. There is, I assure you, a very big monster present, though. It may not seem as obvious as some of the others in the collection, but it’s huge, has tremendous fangs and claws, is incredibly destructive to humanity, and has been around for centuries. You may still have to squint to see it. Regardless, I just wasn’t sure if the story fit thematically with the other stories. It doesn’t have the same creepy factor that the others tend to, so it felt a little out of place. I even had other stories that had big obvious monsters in them that I declined to include in this collection in favor of Nacho. In the end, it’s just one of my favorite of my stories and I wanted it in there regardless of the monster squint factor.
I have not recorded a podcast version of this story, and likely won’t. But I might get around to posting an audio sample of it from the forthcoming audio book version of A Consternation of Monsters, (which I am even as I type this avoiding some audio-editing for). It’s nearly half way there.
Here’s my interview on the Armstrong Cable TV show Chapters, hosted by Eliot Parker.