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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Big News!....

Last week I received some huge news.  I probably could tell you more at this point, but I'd rather draw it out.  So, all I'll say is, check back often for the biggest news I've ever announced.

Am I over selling it? Stay tuned to find out.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Rialto Theater

The Rialto Theater
by Alex Azar

There's something about being single in your thirties that makes everyone want to hook you up with their desperately lonely friend, who is always “just perfect for you”. That's how I find myself on this double date with Annie and Derrick, and Derrick's cousin's best friend, or was it best friend's cousin?
I've known Annie for about a decade and a half through a mutual friend, although we had lost touch for about five years, and I haven't heard wind from that mutual friend in about fourteen years. We reconnected just in time for me to attend her wedding, sans date, which has led to me meeting Dana roughly forty five minutes ago.
In the past ten months that I've known Derrick, he and I became good friends in our own right, sharing similar interests in whiskey, cigars, and more 'refined' things like seedy dive bars. Another common interest are movies. We're not critics, we're not movie-philes, and we're not cinema snobs. We are just two adults that like all kinds of movies. This bond has brought the four of us to the Regal Theater in Ridgefield Park.
The Regal has gone through many owners during my years in the area, none ever successful to any measurable degree. The last owner closed up shop roughly a year and a half ago, and the theater has sat vacant since. That is, at least, what we were led to believe.
Last week Derrick received an anonymous letter in the mail with four invitations to a private one night only 'limited engagement' at the Regal. This matte black invitation with gold foil script didn't mention what movie would be playing or even why Derrick come to be on the list of invitees, all it contained was a date and time, to bring an appetite and stressed the importance of secrecy.
Gathering at Annie and Derrick's house, the four of us arrived to the Regal at 7:50 for the eight o'clock start time. We were promptly greeted in the lobby by an impossibly tall gentleman, who must have broken the seven foot mark. He had striking features, vibrant blue eyes that were sunken into their sockets, a prominent nose with thin nostrils, and large ears that bent back as if they were slicked towards the rear of his head along with his oily black hair. This combination of features left him distinguishable yet neither handsome nor ugly.
This anomaly of a man, took our tickets, and silently led us into the theater, making sure to duck as he entered the doors, and to our table. The building itself was gutted to accommodate a single theater, having only originally housing two theaters no great sacrifice was made. They had forgone with the traditional cinema style seats, and instead installed several rows of crescent booths. Standing at our booth in the rear I can count only five booths total set up like the dots on a dice, allowing the theater to only seat twenty attendees. “Limited engagement” indeed.
Currently showing on the large screen is a live feed of the interior of the cinema. Were watching us, and all the others in the room, however the view point is from above the screen so no faces are distinguishable, which I'm thankful for. Although I don't quite know why.
We sit at the booth with the females on the inside and Derrick and I on the outside. The semicircle table before us is bare save for a sole dollar store candle casting enough light to reach the edges of the table and no further.
“So, Derrick tells me you're an author. Written anything I would have heard of?” Dana asks either to show a genuine interest in me, or simply to appease her duties for Derrick.
Although Dana can be considered quite attractive, I find myself simply placating to Annie's desire of a nice double date. We'll enjoy a nice meal together, perhaps delight in a one of a kind showing, however part ways never to see each other again until Annie gives birth to an as of yet unplanned child, or to celebrate Derrick's fortieth birthday. In this briefest of moments to reflect, perhaps I've learned why I'm still single in my thirties. “That's right, although I doubt you would have come across anything of mine. Annie had mentioned you teach at NYU, a professor of psychology, if I remember correctly? “
She nods once with a smug self satisfied smile, “Women's psychology, correct. And what is it you write exactly?” With no indication she's being anything but polite and courteous, I understand the waft of condensation in her question.
Puffing out my chest, I answer proudly, “I am an author of speculative fiction.”
“I'm sorry, an author of what?”
And with that one question she deflates my chest. I look to Annie and Derrick for support, but they've turned to themselves, leaving us to our own devices. Typically, when I mention the speculative fiction, I prepare myself to explain it, however with an NYU professor, I expected a bit more intelligence. “I focus on horror and mysteries.”
“Truly one would have to have to have psychological issues to create these twisted worlds.” Of course her interest in me piques when she sees me as a patient.
I chuckle to show her I take no offense to her comment, not that I think she cares one way or the other. “Well all artists have to be a little dead in hear.” I say and point to my chest, “but I get it all out in my writing, allowing me to be charming in person.” Giving her an exaggerated smile, we're interrupted when a waiter serves food none of us recall ordering.
He places a plate of steak and potatoes before Annie, Derrick and I. Of course Dana plays the role of the squeaky wheel, “Excuse me, I don't eat red...”
She's cut off with a plate of salmon, and if my nose is correct an orange glaze.
The moment this nondescript waiter silently turns to leave, another similar looking waiter arrives with whiskey for Derrick and I, and wine for the ladies. Red for Annie, and a white wine for Dana's fish.
Although we hadn't discussed it, I simply assumed Annie and Derrick had ordered the food prior to our arrival. They begin eating, which is enough for me to follow suite.
Moments later, the occupants from the front right booth are escorted behind the movie screen, and their faces are shown for the first time, all of whom appear to be confused and a little excited. They're led to a gray concrete room, that looks like an abandoned storage facility, with four metal folding chairs facing away from each other.
The group is directed to sit down in each of the seats, and one of the cinema pages instructs them to relax with a motion of his hands. It's at this moment I realize that aside from Dana, Annie, and Derrick I haven't heard a single other voice since we entered The Regal. Even the music piping through the theater is instrumental.
The screen changes, and to save on audio the theater employs tactics from the silent era, a caption is shown.

The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

The camera shot on screen returns to the four individuals sitting in the chairs. They all still look confused, and a little less excited, replaced with nervousness. The camera is slowly panning around them in a circle, allowing us to get a clear image of each of their faces. They're three gentlemen in cheap business suits and a woman with hard features and her hair up in a tight bun, like a modern day Nurse Ratched. My guess; they're teachers.
As the camera begins it's third rotation around the group and boredom begins to set in, the screen cuts to white noise, like a TV from the 80's with a loose antenna. Slowly a picture begins to fade in, fighting its way through the snow of static.
Sitting tall the woman in layers of makeup and a more contemporary hairdo, although she looks no less unattractive. Initially the crowd murmurs, notifying me they can communicate audibly, and even I find myself intrigued how they made this computer image so quickly, but realize it isn't a computer generate image, but actually a filmed scene. It's obvious this group, or at least the woman was a plant in the show. They must have recorded this footage prior to the show and made a spectacle leading up to it as part of the event. The camera pans down from her face revealing she's wearing a skin tight black leather outfit with lace ties going up either side, and revealing an ample cleavage. A mask is placed over her face by hands of an unseen assistant, and shortly after a whipping crop is handed to her.
In this video, or 'fantasy' as they would have us believe, she must be a dominatrix.
“Sorry guys, this isn't what I was expecting.” Derrick apologizes. “Do you want to...”
One of the page/waiters returns and holds a finger up to his lips. Silently telling Derrick to remain quiet. We stay seated.
Slowly, the mistress is revealed to be seated atop a black throne carried by two of the teachers she arrived with. The third teacher is crawling at their side. All three male teachers are wearing thong bottoms with ball gags in their mouths. She takes turns whipping each in their exposed rear, bending low to strike the crawling submissive. Her crouch reveals more than just cleavage, and as it appears her breast may become exposed, the image disappears.
The scene returns to the back room where the four are now sitting facing each other. The mistress' face has turned a bright red of embarrassment, not only at the fantasy revealed within her, but also that fact she's still dressed as the dominatrix. Two of the male teachers barely dressed look appalled at the whole thing. However, the last teacher sitting to her right sheepishly removes the ball gag from his mouth and places a hand on hers. She withdraws her hand in disgust, and leaves the room.
I'll admit, even though the gimmick seems short sighted, the actors played their parts well enough when they were returned to the storage room. I begin to wonder how many more of the tables are a part of the show, and if we're the only one not an act.
Our drinks are replaced, again silently, as we continue to work on the food, which is cooked perfectly.
“At least they had the decency to cut the scene before they showed anything more obscene.” Dana protested with a large drink from her glass. “Typical male beliefs. If a woman isn't as attractive as popular standards, she's reduced to a masked dominatrix role.”
Sensing I've had my file of the women's psychologist, Derrick plays the role of devil's advocate. “But Dana, they were just showing her fantasy. Is it the filmmaker's fault she has desires of dominance in the bedroom?”
Letting out an exasperated sigh, Dana counters, “You and I and everyone else in this room know that whole scene was staged. There is no magical apparatus that will display one's inner desires.”
“Agreed Dana, I will not argue that point. However, would you argue that a likely scenario is that they asked her what her fantasy was before hand, and put that display together accordingly?”
Mercifully for Dana, the second act was about to begin, and the front left table was now whisked to the back. This group consisted of two females and two males. The gentlemen looked similar, with one being an older version of the other. I'd wager they were sixty five and forty respectively, likely making them father and son. The men were seated with their backs to each other, and the women similarly.
The same message appears on screen, which I find to be lazy showmanship.

The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.
The matriarch of this group has clear reservations of what may be revealed, which makes me more intrigued on what her story would be, however if they stay true to form, someone with a stronger 'desire' will win out. From the look on the faces, my guess is the son. The static starts at roughly the same point in the rotation as the first go round.
Through the crackle on the screen a large castle is revealed in the distance sitting against a sheer cliff to rocky waters. The camera zooms in from over the sea and heads towards a window high in the castle. Again, the scene is something that is clearly filmed and not a digital creation, which baffles me. How does a production like this not only afford a helicopter, but also acquire rights to film in a castle?
The camera, from zooming over the water, somehow enters the castle seamlessly. There's no scene change, or film splicing, just a continuous motion from outside the castle to within. Once inside, we enter a large gathering hall with four thrones perched atop a small stage. Sitting in the center is the patriarch of the family as king, with his wife to his left. To his right sits his son, the Rialto prince. Missing from the picture is the other female of the group, and I can sense Derrick also question he absence.
The seven foot usher emerges from the crowd before the Rialto family, dressed as a jester. Without any prompting begins his act, however trips over his own feet in the first bit. Failing to impress, the king signals a thumbs down, and the lanky giant is carried off by the similar looking page/waiters.
Again, I must critique the laziness of this production. If we're to believe the scenario of this being random happenstance, they need to expand their roster.
Uncharacteristically quiet for most of the night, Annie mirrors my thoughts, “They couldn't hire someone else to play the different roles?” She is silently shushed from an appearing page/waiter almost immediately.
The page/waiter that just reprimanded Annie reappears on screen holding the bloody head of the jester. As the real waiter walks away from us, I notice his hand is dripping wet, but with the dim lights of the theater, can't quite make out what is on his hand.
Similar to jester before her, the fourth member of the group makes her way through the gathered audience before the Rialto family. Dressed as a peasant, she does a curtsy before the king. He rises with joy on his face and embraces her shoulders in his giants paws, kissing her on each cheek. Turning, he motions for his son to join them. Doing so, the son lifts the peasant off her feet, kissing her passionately before the entire kingdom. Her clothes magically become those fit for a princess, and the white noise returns.
The four family members are sitting facing each other in their new fancy Rialto garb, and the patriarch is smiling with tears in his eyes. They all rise, and embrace in family hug. The daughter-in-law has been accepted in the family. The emotions seem genuine, and I'm still intrigued how they pulled off the camera trickery of entering the narrow castle window from a helicopter. While I couldn't notice the details, it's clear they used computer manipulation to alter the princess' clothes. They seem to have blown the load on this segment's budget.
Of course Dana found the sexist overtones the rest of us missed. “Typical. The lowly female has to elevate her status to be accepted into a male dominated society.”
With the attempt at a double date long past, I hold no punches. “Do you hear yourself when you spew this rhetoric?”
Trying to diffuse the situation before it gains steam, Annie asks, “Why is it wrong for a daughter-in-law to seek approval for the family she's married into?”
“What about the son-in-law seeking approval from her family? Why is it a one way street in service of the male?”
Derrick chuckles, before suggesting, “Maybe it's because it's his family that's here.”
Our drinks are once again replenished, thankfully, but this time I notice the page/waiter's white sleeve is covered in red, not the red of wine either.
The center table is now selected to enter the backstage area. They walk between the two front booths, and Annie points out that not only have the Rialto family not taken their seats, the teachers are still missing.

The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

The center table consists of three attractive ladies and a single guy. The man and one of the females are holding hands, while the other two females are walking with their arms locked together. They all sit tin their chairs, the guy next to his girl. Interestingly enough, the female next to her, looks to be nearly identical, clearly making them sisters. And the fourth member must obviously be the sister's partner.
Before the camera begins to pan around this group, I reconsider the notion that all four tables are a part of the act meant just for us.
“Now this has the potential to be educational for all those sexist perverts from the previous sketches.” Dana says to no one in particular, though she's clearly referring to the gay couple.
The camera begins the trip around the group, and after the fourth circle it becomes apparent the director of this little play is trying ti build suspense. Who has the stronger will? Who's desire will be revealed? Finally during the fifth rotation the static starts.
Slowly the image of a female begins to appear, but it takes a moment to be able to distinguish her as the partner. She's attractive, even more so in the movie makeup of this scene. The camera pulls away, and she's shown to be naked on a bed, this time they're not shying away from the 'obscene' as Dana would phrase it.
Soon she's joined by her lover, the sister. They begin an intimate act, that is at once both erotic and uncomfortable. Watching porn in a group should be a comedy setting, not something meant to stimulate. Surprisingly enough, Dana is watching intently with a smile on her face. I would think this is the biggest display of male testosterone yet, but apparently she approves.
However, the bed begins to become crowded as the other sister adds to the uncomfortableness of the situation. The sisters begin performing with each other in a way that I'm pretty sure is still illegal in every state of America. Dana is no longer impressed , even less so when the man enters the scene.
On cue, all three women begin pleasuring him with acts straight out of the raunchiest porn. They do things that I'm not entirely certain would feel good but are none-the-less supposed to be considered sexy according to the porn industry.
Thankfully the segment climaxes before he does, and we see the four facing each other, naked as the day they were born. The girlfriend has tears streaking her face, and delivers a right cross to his jaw that would make Muhammad Ali proud. That's followed up by a swift kick to his crotch that would please Mike Tyson. The other two females join in, literally kicking him while he's down.
Trying to break the uncomfortable silence that follows, I turn to Dana, “Yea, I can see how that was 'educational for all those sexist perverts'. She was not amused, and truthfully neither was I. The uncomfortableness of the scene just hangs in the air, until our next round of drinks arrive. Unfortunately, they come with a new sense of dread. A note is placed with a bloody hand from the page/waiter, that reads.

You're up next. Last act of the night, impress us.

The table next to us rises and is lead to the back, and I'm fairly certain none of us at this table can concentrate on what's about to happen.

The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

Four gentlemen sit in the backwards facing chairs. All wearing nice haircuts and even nicer suits. These men are businessmen; lawyers or accountants, something that supports a wealthy lifestyle. One of these men, slightly older than the rest, carries himself just a hair taller in stature, not height, and I peg him as their boss. All four look at ease, and even happy, apparently oblivious to what just transpired. They must be lawyers.
Before the camera can even make a full rotation around the snow starts, and the strongest desire is being revealed. Sitting at the head of a long, empty, board room table is the boss. He's smoking an unhealthily large looking cigar. Suddenly the table disappears and his hands are bound to the chair. The cigar in his mouth becomes a gag tied around his head. Then two of the other businessmen appear next to the boss, similarly bound and gagged. Finally, the last businessman, the smallest of the group, walks into the room, although in this scene he's over six feet tall and bulging with muscles I'm sure he never knew existed. He walks to the boss and punches him square in the chest, knocking the chair over. Before he continues, the big man sets the boss back upright to watch what happens next.
He turns his focus to the businessman to his right, an Asian man with a coif of black hair. The bruiser smiles devilishly as his left hand morphs into a long blade. Starting with practice slashes, monster man cuts the Asian on his arms and legs. He tries to scream in pain, but his efforts are muffled. Apparently tired of toying around, monster man stabs his prey through the chest. His arm goes elbow deep, with the tip of the blade protruding from the back. Withdrawing his blade arm with a slopping sound like a turkey being stuffed in reverse. For an exclamation point, he effortlessly chops his first victim's head off.
Monster man, once again punches over the boss only to set him up again to watch what happens to their red haired Irish coworker. The left hand of death returns to a normal looking human hand, however now his right hand has grown in size. Roughly the size of a football and metal looking, monster man once again begins with the limbs. He smashes the legs like dried timber, and the Irishman's screams make it through the cloth gag. Even worse are the cried of pain when monster man rips his arms out of their sockets like pulling the cap off of a pen. Certainly dead from the excruciating pain and loss of blood, however monster man delivers the coupe de grace, by crushing the red head's head with his bare hand.
Returning his focus to his sure to be former boss, monster man returns to his original smaller self. He proceeds to expose himself and urinates all over the feet and legs of the elder. Disgusted, I turn away to see that Annie and Dana have covered their eyes, possibly long before urination. Derrick locks desperate eyes with mine and shrugs his shoulders. We both return our attention to the screen.
Monster man produces a match from a pocket and lights it with a flick of his thumb. Apparently, his urine was of the flammable variety, as boss man's legs are immediately engulfed in flames. Monster man, removes the gag to better hear the screams he clearly earned. From the same pocket he pulled the match from, he withdraws a full sized baseball bat. Mimicking Babe Ruth, monster man calls his shot by pointing the bat at boss man's head. Before he swings, he calmly says “No more” and proceeds to bash the man's head in. Hit after hit, he's unrelenting as the fire from the legs reaches upwards, apparently immune to the affects of the flames.
With a final 'thunk' the snow falls and we're returned to the back room. Monster man is sitting with his eyes closed, afraid of the repercussions awaiting him. When he isn't immediately pummeled, he slowly opens one eye, and is greeted with the horror we witnessed already. All three of his coworkers are missing their heads, and have been inflicted with all the wounds from the fantasy scene. Upon realization at what he's done, monster man begins vomiting uncontrollably as he crawls out of the room.
The four of us sit silently at our booth, praying for the reveal that this is all a work, and the entire sixteen person cast, plus the two page/waiters and the usher/jester are all alive and well, and take their bow. Instead, we're led by the page/waiter with the bloody hand to the backroom where we find the mess has already been cleared. We hesitantly take our seats back to back to one another, unable to see anyone's face. Before us, are monitors showing what is happening on the large screen.
For the first time in my life I wish I weren't a horror.

The Rialto Theater would like to ask each table of guests to join us backstage one at a time. While alone in the room they will concentrate on their greatest fantasies at this very moment. Whoever's desire is the strongest will appear on screen. Relax, enjoy, and remember it's just a movie.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Free Thoughts 4/4/14

Growing up I never really had an issue with pimples.  Sure I got the stray bump while going through those awkward teenage years, but it was never so bad as a problem.  My skin, aside from the various scars I've acquired from the follies of youth, has always been mostly blemish free.

Why am I telling you this? Perhaps because it's three a.m. Thursday night, or if you prefer early Friday morning.  I'm of the belief that it's not the next day until you've gone to sleep and awoke on the other side of the hours past. Although, if that were true with my insomnia I'd be living a year behind everyone (time travel is possible!)

But the other reason I mention my very limited experience with pimples, is that I'm currently sporting two on my forehead greeting my hairline.  Granted in a few years my hair will have retreated away from this point on my head.  They're small, inconspicuous bumps most people probably can't notice but I sure as hell do.

I'm pretty much hoping they are in fact the result of spider bite for the simple fact that the alternative suggests that stress is the cause.  Those who know me well, know I am not one who stresses.  Things roll off my back with ease, and I can find the good in almost any situation.

So what is it at this point in my life do I have to stress about?  Hopefully just spiders in the bed.  Sleep well readers.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What I'm Reading Now 3/31/14

There's a strange dichotomy within me.  I'm very much a fan of Stephen King, however I haven't read many of his novels.  My fandom of his exists almost entirely with his short stories, (a large influence of my own style) however there are actually only a handful of his novels that I've already read.  Of course my opinion of the bard has been influenced by the plethora of movies/tv specials based on his storied career, but I'm just now making the conscious effort to read the novels based on his legendary works like It, and The Shining.

First up in this effort is Salem's Lot.  I'm a little ashamed to admit that not only have I not read this novel, I haven't seen either of the television miniseries based on it. Although, I have read the two short stories that take place within the same world as Salem's Lot but after the events of the novel; Jerusalem's lot and One for the Road.

Going into the novel I only have two established thoughts. First, I like the idea of Stephen King writing a horror story about vampires, especially since he's been quoted on more than one occasion that this is his favorite novel he's written. And second, if the title and nickname of the town is derived from "Jerusalem" aren't we all pronouncing it wrong?


Monday, March 24, 2014

Free Thoughts 3/24/14

I recently went to a concert at the Stanhope House.  It's basically a large bar that has a stage.  Apparently, it's mostly a Jazz/Blues venue, but I went with my brother to see Pharoahe Monch, a rapper.  And because he's a rapper, the opening acts were also hip-hop... all of them.  There was 8 opening acts, each performed 3-4 quick raps and were gone.  I would have much rather had 2-3 opening acts with longer sets, but as it was there was a good variety, by which I mean more white rappers in a single room than the 8 Mile movie auditions.

The M.C. of the night was also the first emcee of the night, an overweight Irish rapper with a vibrant red beard... and he was impressively good.  There was also an angry ICP (look it up) reject with red and white face paint on.  Even more interesting was his hype man was garbed in all black and wore a chromed out baby mask.  His hype man wore a mask and couldn't say anything! Not sure they understand the point of a hype man, but I will say he provided the comedy for the night when he turned his back to the crowd so he could lift up his mask and drink from his beer while Face Paint continued with the show.

My real reason for writing about this night is to acknowledge how hard it must be to get on stage and perform your art like that.  I was watching as one particularly bad performer was on stage, and despite not having a good flow or even decent lyrics, he worked the mic like he owned it with a confidence that's needed in this world of music.  No matter what type of music or the size of the venue, these musicians (whether good or bad) are putting themselves on display in a way other artists typically don't have to.

Authors, we write privately, edit our own work, then facelessly submit our work online to a publisher we'll likely never meet, who accepts or rejects us in an email, usually in what's called a 'form letter', which means they basically copy and paste the same rejection they gave the previous author.  Then we, as authors, make some adjustments and send it on to the publisher.  Rejection for an author is a faceless infraction that usually results in a better piece after more editing.

Musicians on the other hand, have to preform face to face and look their audience in the eyes as they either cheer or boo.  Even their practice rounds have to be live for feedback on whether or not their getting better or not.  I practice on a sheet of paper, and if I'm not happy with it, I can crumble it up and throw it away (sorry recycle).

All this to say, I'll always respect musicians for performing regardless of quality while I sit here behind my pad and a pen.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A History Of Comics From One Fan's Eyes: Part 3

Marvel Comics and the creators behind these legendary characters that populate their universe did an amazing job crafting fantastic heroes that are somehow still relatable. Stan Lee, Archie Goodwin, John Byrne, David Michelinie and countless other authors found a way for me to relate to this character that should otherwise not work. What was the quote from the Avengers movie? Without the suit of armor, Tony Stark is still a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” four things that, despite how wise I may think I am, I'm about as far from being as possible.

So, what was it that at such a young age I was able to relate to? A large part of it was that I had no idea what was really going on in these issues aside from the action. The other factor was that I envied Tony Stark's ability to overcome his setbacks, but also turn those setbacks into an advantage; all the while being a an 'ordinary' human, well as ordinary as a comic superhero could be.

Tony Stark's greatest inspiration is taking a life threatening injury and turning it into a career as a super hero.

It's those similar qualities that I look up to Batman as well. His career as a hero very similarly mimics that of Iron Man. These two beyond human, yet still human, heroes give readers the understanding that we can accomplish so much more than what's already before us; and the tragedy of the Stark's and Wayne's shows us we can overcome any tragedy that befalls us. Whether it's a personal injury or a death in the family we learn that nothing can hold us back if we dedicate what resources we have at our hands, even if we don't have multi-billion dollar international corporations at our disposal. We need to learn to rely on ourselves at times of crisis.

At the time of his creation Iron Man used transistors in his armor which were the height of technology. In his first issue, Batman used a grappling hook to get around. As the world advanced technologically so have these characters, ushering the advancement of other heroes in their worlds as well. The gadgets Iron Man has used both in his comics as well as in his blockbuster movies are on the trend of where our real world applications are heading. The first time I remember seeing a portable computer was in an issue of Batman, and although it wasn't called a tablet it's easy to imagine the developers of the tech that has taken over our lives, this 2-in-1 laptop/tablet combo I'm writing this on for instance, were inspired by the fictional adventures of characters like Iron Man and Batman.

Just as the technology within comic worlds evolve, so do the characters and creators along with them. The biggest factor that has contributed to the longevity of this medium filled with masks, tights, and capes is that the people behind the pages refuse to limit themselves or their imaginations. If the public feels Superman has gotten stale and too predictable, kill him. Sure, he was brought back no too long after, but there isn't a person alive that considers themselves a comic fan that doesn't have the black bagged death of Superman issue. Readers that grew up with Peter Parker from the day he was bit by a radio active spider, began to feel that while their lives moved on, the hero they loved hadn't. What does Marvel do? Amazing Spider-Man Giant Sized Annual #21, the marriage of Spider-Man and his long time love interest Mary-Jane Watson. This issue came at a time when many of the readers that followed Spider-Man as kids were now getting married themselves. Again, similar to Superman coming back to life, the Spider-Marriage was wiped from history several years ago.

Two milestone issues that display the ever evolving medium of comics

This all goes to show that while constantly evolving to updating characters to better fit the times, as well as the technology we read today's comics with, simultaneously things stay the same. Dick Grayson, Otto Octavious, James Rhodes, John Walker (the character not the whiskey), John Stewart (the marine not the comedian), Carol Danvers, Wally West or Eric Masterson; all of these characters took over the mantle of an established hero in an effort to evolve the character, some with a substantial career and fan-base of their own (Wally for Flash, anyone?). Although each of these stars relinquished the title to the original person behind the mask (soon in the case of Otto as Spider-Man) they each went on to carry their own long lasting careers.   

Whether you prefer Eric Masterson as Thor or Thunderstirke, or if your Green Lantern is Hal Jordan, Guy Gardener, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, or Simon Baz comics have something for everyone. Both young and old, new reader, lapsed fan, or devoted weekly shopper, male or female, straight, gay, bi, or unsure, there is a comic out there for you. Hollywood and TV knows this and as long as this remains true, we'll all have more comics than we can handle, but just maybe not as much as we want. 

 Whether you read the funny pages or watch them in the theaters, always remember to enjoy it and come back for more.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Intro 9: The Statue Garden

One thing I've learned as an author, and have confirmed with others in this profession, is that ideas never die.  It may take some time for them to resurface but they always do.  Some story ideas should probably stay buried like that time I thought people wanted to read about an Arab teen's fictional reimagining of the hip-hop East coast - West coast situation at the time of Biggie's and 2Pac's deaths.  Other ideas just need the proper time to germinate.  Such is the case of "The Statue Garden".

My sister and her husband own a statue business, that consists of a statue garden.  Now as an adult (at least in age) the scope of the plot of land isn't as impressive as it once was when I was a child, when I truly believed I could be lost in the 'maze' of statues for days.

A few years ago, after having dinner at my sister's place and seeing the statues at night, I knew there was a story there. I'm the type to sit on ideas and let them naturally develop as I work on other pieces.  During this time, I stumbled upon notes I had written nearly 20 years ago (that'd make me around 11) and front and center on a scrap of paper was "The Statue Maze, a boy gets lost in a maze of statues and years later awakes from a nightmare still in that maze".  As you'll notice a few things have changed, such as the character's gender, but those seeds were planted long ago.

Read on...

 “Steph, I can’t believe your uncle is letting us have the rave at his place. This is going to be the best Halloween ever!”
I know Kerrie. He said his business is doing pretty bad, so he’s not worried about any of the statues getting broken, except for the religious ones.”
Stephanie’s uncle, Don Hoskin, was like a surrogate father while growing up since her real father left her mom while she was pregnant with Stephanie. Don owns the third largest statue garden in New Jersey. However, despite early success in sales, he’s struggling to stay in business during this recession.
Don has owned Hoskin’s Marble Maze since before Stephanie was born, and some of her earliest memories are from the garden. She had her first kiss in a corner of the maze dedicated to birds; she would sneak to a section of children statues to write in her diary under the warm sun. But all of this was in stark contrast to her feelings of the garden at night while growing up.
The summer when she was five Stephanie’s grandfather, who was living with Uncle Don, passed away from a heart attack. Out of fear Stephanie ran into the maze to lose herself. Unfortunately, because of the commotion inside no one noticed that she was missing until seven hours later while they were at the hospital. Having fallen asleep beneath an angelic themed granite bench with wings for a back support, Stephanie was woken up by her mother’s voice. Waking up in the now lightless night put a fright in her that she wasn’t able to shake for some time.
After weeks of resistance Uncle Don finally convinced Stephanie to enter the maze. Although she was only willing to walk a few feet before running out, it was the first step towards getting her to traverse the entire maze. By Christmas time Stephanie knew every turn and dead end in the maze and was once again comfortable entering alone. Several weeks later she was even willing to go in at night, but she never recaptured the joy she once felt at her uncle’s statue garden.
It’s because of the lingering fears that Stephanie has subdued that Uncle Don was surprised of her request to have the party there. The truth of the matter is that Kerrie and her boyfriend persuaded her to do so.
Attempting to ease her best friend’s fears Kerrie tells Stephanie “I’ll make sure you’re never alone the whole night.”
Responding to her friend over the phone, Stephanie says “The only rule my uncle gave me was that we had to stay away from the religious section, which he’s going to section off anyway.”
Seriously Steph, this is going to be the best rave ever. I wonder what kind of costume I should wear.”
Not fully embracing her friend’s optimism, Stephanie cautions “We only have a month to plan a rave for two hundred people. We’ll need a DJ, lights, and enough ecstasy for everyone.”
Don’t worry about the ‘X’, James can take care of that.”
Even more cautious, Stephanie begins to question “How is your boyfriend able to… I’d rather not know, do I?”
With a playful “Nope” Kerrie ends the conversation.
The day before the rave Stephanie is setting up the orange string lights throughout the maze, with the aid of Kerrie, James, and Luis, a friend that she’s oblivious of his feelings for her.
Rubbing his arms to warm up, James complains “For years Halloween has been t-shirt weather, now I’m freezing my ass off.” He throws down a bundle of lights before continuing “Why are we even doing this shit now?”
Because you’re girlfriend told the DJ everything will be ready before he gets here tomorrow.” Stephanie replies curtly.
Well I hope it warms up by then.”
The typically shy Luis wanting to feel like he’s part of the conversation chimes in, “Not likely, forecast calls for more of the same. But once the music starts and the drugs take affect it shouldn’t matter anyway.”
Stop being such a nerd Lois, and finish these lights, me and Kerrie got to blaze.”
Defending her friend, Stephanie angrily corrects James, “You know his name is Luis, and he’s not a nerd for knowing tomorrow’s weather, asshole.”
You’re right; he’s a nerd because he still reads comics.” Being the only one who finds himself amusing, James walks away laughing at his own comments.
Ignore him.” Kerrie tries to assuage Luis, but seeing the look in his eyes, she tries a different approach. “Hey, why don’t you two go inside and get some food ready. James and I will finish with the lights.” Aware of Luis’ feelings for Stephanie, she hopes the alone time will help them bond.
Trying to take advantage of his opportunity, Luis puts a hand on Stephanie’s shoulder and says, “Kerrie told me that you’re uncomfortable among the statues at night, but don’t worry I’ll be here.”
Ignoring most of what was just said, Stephanie focuses on the word ‘uncomfortable’ and corrects Luis. “It’s not that I’m just uncomfortable in the maze, I have a genuine fear of it in the dark. Something happened when I was younger and I got lost in there. I wasn’t found until after I had fallen asleep and had this horrible nightmare.” She pauses, contemplating if she should tell Luis this nightmare that she’s kept to herself all these years. Deciding he’s safe, she continues, “I was only five at the time but in the nightmare I was an adult in this body, and one of the statues came to life. This stone man with an impossible flowing marble beard and shaggy hair had his way with me, and instantly I looked nine months pregnant. I knew the birth of the baby would mean the death of everyone I cared for, so I tried to kill it. This thing was just as powerful as its beady eyed father. Just when I was about to give birth to it, I awoke with a shriek that directed my family to me.”
Too captivated by Stephanie is Luis that he refuses to interrupt to interject his thoughts. Instead he motions for her to sit on a mushroom shaped bench that resembles something out of ‘Wonderland’ to the side of the entrance to the maze as she continues to confide in him.
I hadn’t even thought much of that dream in the twenty years since I’ve had it, but ever since we decided to have the party here I’ve been having the same nightmare. Every night I’d have it except with slight variations.”
Such as?” Luis asks as he inches closer to Stephanie on the already small bench.
Not even registering his advances Stephanie answers, “Well one night he had legs like a cat, and sometimes he had the head of a goat, kind of like a Minotaur.”
Forgetting his own timid-ness, Luis corrects “Actually, Minotaurs are half bull, not goat.”
I understand that, but that’s not the point. You know what I meant. You need to stop correcting people when it doesn’t matter. Anyway, more recently the stone man didn’t rape me.” Pausing for dramatic effect, she focuses on Luis’ eyes and continues, “I slept with him willingly.”
More than a little taken aback, Luis reasons, “Well that’s probably just because you’ve grown tired of fighting this guy every night.”
Appreciating Luis’ attempt to comfort her, “Thanks Luis, that’s sweet, but if I can resist advances in real life I could do the same in my dreams.” Gently patting his cheek she rises to her feet. “We should get the food ready.”
That night while trying to look up the forecast for the rave, Kerrie sees a news headline indicating that an inmate of a nearby insane asylum has recently escaped. “Holy shit Steph isn’t this place close to us?” turning her phone towards Luis sitting next to her.
Yea Hanover Township is like five minutes away.” Stephanie answers flippantly not too concerned with the news.
Luis looking at the picture jokes, “This guy looks like Charles Manson with a longer beard.” Mistaking Stephanie’s shock as a look of disbelief he supports his theory by showing her the phone, “Come on, you don’t think so?”
Looking up Stephanie sees the stone man that took advantage of her in her dream all those years ago, not only on the phone but also in the window directly behind Luis. Stephanie screams with all her might…
and wakes with a jolt heavily sweating and out of breath. Before she can even realize where she is Luis storms in the room with a baseball bat high overhead.
Seeing no one else in the room he asks, “What’s wrong Steph?”
Stammering for words Stephanie is interrupted by Kerrie and James walking in naked except for a blanket and sheet covering them. Their own sweat reveals they weren’t just sleeping in the nude.
James takes the bat from Luis hand, “Easy there Romeo, don’t touch that, it’s part of my Furies costume.” Seeing that it was nothing but a nightmare he leans towards Kerrie and whispers, “Come on, Sybil just had a bad dream, let’s go finish.” He receives a sturdy elbow to his gut.
With the departure of Kerrie and James, Stephanie asks Luis to stay in the room. “I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to sleep, actually I don’t even want to try. I’m scared I’ll have another nightmare.”
Exhausted from all of the day’s work, Luis forces the tire out of him for a chance to spend the night with Stephanie. “Sure thing, but you’ll have to keep me up.” Hoping she takes that as an invitation for something intimately physical.
Instead he hears, “I’ve got an idea, go change into your costume, I’ll change into mine, and we can model for each other.”
With his libido deflated Luis shuffles off after mustering a weak “Okay.”

To find out what happens within the statue garden, read "The Statue Garden" in Cobwebs & Antiquities published by Static Movement.  You can purchase the book at Amazon.com and as always in the AzarRising mobile bookstore.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A History Of Comics From One Fan's Eyes: Part 2

I didn't know at the time, but choosing to buy that issue of Iron Man #133 not only started on the sexy path of comic collector (hey, maybe if enough people say it comics can be sexy), but also changed my life in a much more profound way.

The comic that started me on my path of constant near poverty, in other words, a comic collector

Coming from a large ethnic family, friends weren't something I could choose. I was born with a great group of siblings and cousins that I will always love and cherish. But what that meant as a kid growing up in the USA, I didn't have what my family called 'American' friends (regardless of their ethnicity). The first friends I was able to choose, were from comics, and that's why even in my 30's with a robust(ish) social life I'm proud to count Iron Man and Batman among my friends. Granted, I don't readily promote that fact about me (except right now with you, I'm still looking for that girlfriend that shares my passion for comics), but I do sport a painfully acquired tattoo of both Iron Man and Batman.

Pictures of the tattoo don't do it justice, but if you ask I'll be glad to drop my pants. (Did I mention the tattoo was on my thigh?)

It's that deep connection with comics that drove me to be an author, and although I've been writing them for as long as I can remember, I've yet to publish my first word bubble. On the other hand, I have found a modicum of success with my prose writing. To date I've been published in nearly a dozen different anthologies, and have several more planned for 2014, including a short comic in a horror anthology.

Coincidentally enough, around the same time I was drawn into the world of spandex and masks, I watched the first Nightmare on Elm St on tape when my family was asleep. I know I should have been terrified, but even at that age I must have already had that blackness in my heart that all horror authors share. It's a corruption that twists all ideas to the macabre, gory and demented. Thankfully, I'm able to satiate those thoughts with my writing and I'm the normal-ish person I appear to be.

If Iron Man was my gateway to comics, Freddy Krueger was the drug that got me hooked on horror

That unique combination during my upbringing of superheroes and slashers led to me creating Paranormal Detective James S. Peckman; a human living in a world where coworkers have healing abilities and villains work for ancient alien gods or suck your blood, if you're lucky. I've written ten of his cases so far, and even have the pleasure of having one published in an anthology of winter themed stories.

Attempting to widen my writing influence, I regularly update my blog, AzarRising, with any various writing news and interviews. I continue to post rejections letters I receive, in an attempt to encourage other struggling authors and show that a rejection letter doesn't mean what you've written isn't print worthy. In fact, almost every story that I have published received a rejection letter prior to seeing print.

However, to keep from being completely gloom and doom, I also post intros to the stories that have been printed as a showcase of my work, and hopefully also to serve as inspiration to the next writer reading my blog.

In another effort to spread my name, I've been going to conventions and trade-shows with stacks of my business cards and copies of my anthologies. I've met some wonderful people at these shows, and even made business connections that proved fruitful, leading to additional publications.

However, my greatest convention memory was pure fan-boy, and not as an author. Four years ago at New York Comic-Con while looking for a publisher to whore myself to, I found a little nook of a booth with no customers. But what he did have, was a display of dozens of classic golden age issues, including Tales of Suspense #39. For those of you not in the know, that issue contains the first appearance of Iron Man himself.

In 1963 you could have picked up the birth of a legend for only $0.12

Having not planned on buying any lofty purchases, I didn't have the necessary money on hand. I had convinced the dealer to give me time to go to an ATM and (following a call to my bank to confirm that I hadn't gone insane or lost my card) added to my ever growing collection the crown jewel of Iron Man comics.

At that point, I had already collected ever Iron Man series issue, and this addition gave me the new mission, of obtaining the entire run of ToS with Iron Man. I can say with much pride, and pain in my wallet, that I am nearly complete on this mission that began nearly 30 years ago with Iron Man #133. A comic where the hero, and my friend, nearly died at the hands of the Hulk.

Come back in two weeks for the third and final installment in this collector's comic history.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What I'm Reading Now 2/24/14 UPDATED

I'm about to read a book called "The 37th Mandala", and that's about all I know about the book.  I even had to google the book to find out the author is Marc Laidlaw, feel like I should know this name, but I don't.

I had come across the book randomly about two years ago and remember hearing years prior that I would enjoy it.  I think the phrase used was something along the lines of 'this is right up your alley'.

Unfortunately, I don't know what that means. Pretty sure my varied tastes lead to many alleys, some dirty and scary, others more inviting.  Come back to to find which alley this fits in, and possibly more important, what the hell a Mandala is...

Wow, that's all I can say. Unfortunately, it's not a good wow.  This book was painful to read, at least as far I as had made it through.

First off a Mandala is apparently the author's attempt at reimagining H.P. Lovecraft's Elder Gods (you know Cthulhu, Nyarlothep, and all those guys).  The Mandala's are lies based off of myths that may or may not have been routed in truth.  A Mandala is a central sigil associated with a certain spell.  What a Mandala isn't, is interesting or remotely entertaining.  At least The 37th Mandala isn't.

The writing is dry, so dry in fact, it renders the adventure within the story boring.  Merriam Webster would have written a more engaging book than Marc Laidlaw did here.  To further turn off anyone holding this book in their hands, is the fact it's filled with unrealistic characters, leaving you completely uninterested in the outcome of their lives.  Readers would have been better served had Laidlaw acted as muse for a different more competent author.  I only say that because typically anything with the Elder Gods is worth giving a shot; this however is not.

As if you needed this bit, but the rating is...

Inside Cover
Despite the name of the writing, don't even bother reading the blurb on the inside of the book.  I tried liking this book, even forced myself passed my self imposed 75 page limit, but still had to tap out.  Save your brain cells, and skip this one.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A History Of Comics From One Fan's Eyes: Part 1

If recent history is any indication, we all love comics. How else would the biggest Hollywood blockbusters be based on the four-color 'funny pages' so many of us grew up on? Marvel's The Avengers is the third highest grossing movie of all time, and the Iron Man and Christopher Nolan Batman trilogies are among the biggest franchises in recent years. Comics have even taken over our TV screens with the recent success of both Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., not to mention the countless cartoons. No matter where you look, or what your personal interests are, it's hard to deny that today, now, this time in history, it is good to be a geek.

As recent as seven years ago, no one would have expected it to be as big as it's become.

I'm curious about how that started. Not on the grand scale of San Diego Comic-Con becoming a powerful international showcase of all things pop culture, but on a more personal note. People always say you never forget your first, but if you ask most comic readers they can't recall the first issue they purchased or read.

I for one, remember with clear distinction the first comic I bought with my own money. I still own that very issue, and not a repurchased copy, but the original issue that cost me less than a third of today's popular comics.

My brother had been letting me read his comics for a couple months at the time, well as much reading as any five-year-old does with a comic full of eye catching art. From the beginning I had a strong fascination with Iron Man, based mostly on the fact that he had such a crippling medical condition but still sacrificed himself to save the world. And the cars, he had amazing cars (I named by Big Wheel tricycle Iron Man) that every kid loved.

How cool is that now you can buy an Iron Man themed Big Wheel?

When my brother realized that I was rereading comics multiple times because he wasn't buying new ones, he took me to the local comic shop so I could start my very own collection. There was no warning of the importance of what I chose to begin the foundation of my 'library', possibly because it shouldn't have been that big of a deal, or perhaps there was no way of telling how influential this moment would be on the rest of my life, but in any case I knew I had to choose wisely.

It came as no surprise to my brother that I was immediately drawn to the small section of Iron Man comics, but what he found odd was that I wasn't interested in the latest issue. I held a seven year old issue that came out a couple of years before I was even born. In my hands was Iron Man #133, a nothing issue that today could be found in your local shop's 50 cent bin, if they even have it. But then, in 1987 it was like seeing a naked female for the first time. I was filled with questions, and wanted to see more.

The cover that started it all for me.

The cover depicted not only The Invincible Iron Man defeated on the ground, but also The Incredible Hulk laid on the floor, in a similar defeated fashion. Jim Rhodes (prior to becoming War Machine) was clearly concerned over the well being of his friend, and Ant-Man, according to the cover he was all-new and astonishing, stood shocked at whatever it was that transpired. And what was it that happened? I had to know. The cover told me that Iron Man beat the Hulk, but asked “At what cost?”, but more intriguing to me is why would the two be fighting. To my five year old mind it didn't make sense. Although I wasn't too familiar with Hulk, I knew he was supposed to be a hero, and the idea of two heroes fighting was too much to take (this was well before Civil War or AvX) and I needed those answers.

Honestly, at this point nearly 30 years later, I barely remember what transpired within the issue, but I do know this issue was the start to my life long hobby, turned collection (borderline obsession), and career. Iron Man #133 was the first of my 30,000 (and counting) comic collection.