Thursday, April 30, 2015

Virtual reality + horror

"Using the flashlight, camera, and display of your device (plus: it’s best to plug in your headphones), you can explore your own home. The story is vague, something about an eight-year-old girl trapped in ghost-land, but a lot of survival horror games unfold from a vague premise, so that’s not an indicator of quality. The draw remains that you’re walking around your own house and the app will manipulate things in the environment and produce ghostly apparitions.  
The development team is shooting practical ghost effects that will be composited into your house in real time. So you walk into your bathroom and see something in the darkness behind you. It also alters the sound of the game to match the reverb of different rooms, and places noises in surround sound. So you walk out of your bathroom and something is pounding on your door and shrieking. It sounds like it could be that perfect mix of fun and terrifying. Until you really think about it. Then it’s just terrifying."
This might be interesting. Where was stuff like this in my Reagan-era childhood?

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Although it doesn't utilize your smartphone, you might want to check out my latest horror novel: Twelve Hours of Halloween:

The year is 1980. Jeff Schaeffer, Leah Carter, and Bobby Nagel decide to go out for "one last Halloween" before adolescence takes away their childhood forever.

But this Halloween is different, they soon discover; and an outing that was supposed to be light-hearted and fun becomes a battle for sanity--and perhaps even survival.

From the author of the reader-acclaimed “Eleven Miles of Night”, “12 Hours of Halloween” is a coming-of-age tale unlike any you have ever read.

A sinister teenager known as “the ghost boy” declares that Jeff Schaeffer and his friends will endure “twelve hours of trial” on Halloween. The three young people subsequently find their once familiar suburban surroundings transformed into a bizarre and terrifying landscape.

They discover that just beneath the surface of their middle-American neighborhood lies a secret realm of haunted houses, demonically possessed trees, and spirits with unfinished business. One entity, called the “head collector”, lurks the darkened streets in search of grisly trophies.

At the same time, Jeff is forced to confront new feelings for both of his old friends.

He believes that he is in love with Leah, but does Leah feel the same way?

Meanwhile, his friend Bobby, who had always protected him from local bullies, now seems to harbor a dark agenda that threatens to divide and possibly destroy them all.

12 Hours of Halloween: Prologue through Chapter 3

On fictionalizing the lives of novelists

"Why are so many of today's novelists driven to fictionalise the lives of their illustrious predecessors? 
 One reason, I suspect, is that novelists enjoy inhabiting their heroes' worlds and projecting their imaginations into the gaps which are off-limits to biographers. But do such books amount to more than a literary branch of the heritage industry?"

Most of the points in this piece on the UK's Independent are well taken. 

The majority of fiction writers (with a few exceptions like Hemingway) are introverts. What is interesting about them is their work. Their lives? Well, not so much.

And anyway, the biographies of writers are better served by the genre that already exists for that purpose: nonfiction biography.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Haunted roads in New Jersey..and Eleven Miles of Night

For a small state, New Jersey seems to have a lot of ghosts, and many of them haunt the state’s roads and highways. One of these is the Parkway Phantom, which reportedly haunts the Garden State Parkway.

The Parkway Phantom has been seen by New Jersey travelers almost since the highway was completed in 1955. (There are newspaper accounts dating back to 1959.) According to witness descriptions, the Parkway Phantom is a very tall ghost clad in a belted topcoat. The Parkway Phantom isn’t very threatening—mostly it just waves its arms. The Parkway Phantom appears at various times of the night, and always in the vicinity of a Toms River Barracks of the New Jersey State Police.

While the Parkway Phantom is a distinctive ghost, there are numerous similar highway ghosts in the Garden State. According to

“New Jersey motorists have been reporting roadside apparitions and highway ghosts like the Parkway Phantom for decades, the ghosts apparently having no choice but to wander the area of road where their death occurred. Perhaps they don’t realize, or understand, that their turn at life has come to a traumatic halt, and no matter how much they wave and try to flag down the help of passing New Jersey motorists, their transition to ghost has put hope out of reach.”
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Eleven Miles of Night: a novel

Read the first seven chapters of Eleven Miles of Night

Monday, April 27, 2015

Books: no more “dead” than TV or pro sports

The Economist reported in January that books aren’t dead yet:

Even the most gloomy predictors of the book’s demise have softened their forecasts. Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows predicted in 2011 that the Internet would leave its ever-more-eager users dumb and distracted, admits people have hung onto their books unexpectedly, because they crave immersive experiences. Books may face more competition for audiences’ time, rather as the radio had to rethink what it could do best when films and television came along; the habit of reading for pleasure has fallen slightly in the past few years. But it has not dropped off steeply, as many predicted. The length and ambition of a bestseller such as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch—864 pages in paperback—shows that people still tackle big books.
-The Economist, January 2015 “The Future of the Book”

Rather than seeing the net decline in reading for pleasure as the death knell of the book per se, it might be more proper to see the situation in terms of marketplace diversity.

There are far more entertainment options than there were forty or fifty years ago. It is only natural that these new entertainment options would claim a few fiction or recreational nonfiction readers. It would have been somewhat unreasonable, in fact, to expect the inventions of radio, television, the Internet ,and video games not to reduce the net hours spent on reading for pleasure.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that there are plenty of people who don’t care overly much about YouTube, Twitter, or the latest version of Grand Theft Auto.

In fact, most of these new (and mostly electronic) forms of entertainment follow a predictable pattern: They enjoy an initial surge of attention, followed by a leveling off, or even a decline. In April Twitter introduced numerous “tweaks” to its homepage design. Why? The service had noticed a marked decline in new members.

Twitter’s user base of 288 million is still impressive. But is worth asking: Is the demand for a 140-character microblogging platform infinite? Or could it be that there are only so many people who are going to be interested in what Twitter has to offer?

There have also been industry concerns about the decline in attendance at major league baseball and football games. Time Magazine reported in December 2014 that “fewer people than ever are watching TV”.

Does anyone really believe that professional sports or television are headed for extinction? Probably not. But the proliferation of leisure options in the 21st century makes the marketplace for attention extremely competitive.

This is true if you’re a television producer, a professional sports team owner, the management of a social networking site—or an author. The much ballyhooed “decline in reading” does not signify a unique conspiracy against books, but rather a more competitive environment for everyone who would seek to gain money or recognition by entertaining others.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Plato's "Allegory of the Cave"

From my YouTube channel. A brief discussion about Plato's work, "Allegory of the Cave".

And yes, I admit to being a Platonist in some areas of life. I think all of us are.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy April, and welcome back!

As promised, I’m resuming the blog today after going on hiatus during most of March due to a personal loss that pretty much sidelined me.

The time off has given me some time to think about the blog’s format and content. Some of what follows is a change from the past. Some of it is not. Bear with me, please.

1.) This is a multi-topic blog. Yes, I understand that all the SEO pundits say you’re supposed to blog exclusively about coin collecting, travel to Southeast Asia, or politics from a particular partisan viewpoint. (I also understand that mommy bloggers are supposed to be “hot” now. And, of course, let’s not forget those ever-popular gadget and Internet marketing blogs! Surely the world needs one more blog about gadgets or online marketing strategies!)

Here is my perspective: If you want to read specifically and deeply about one narrow topic, you’ll frequent a large, dedicated, multi-author blog. Or maybe you’ll buy a book about the topic.

The personal blog is supposed to provide an individual perspective. Few individuals think exclusively about one topic. I’m no exception in this regard.

This doesn't mean that there are no limits or guidelines: Topics you are unlikely to find here include: video game reviews (I don’t play them), progressive politics (I’m a conservative), and animal husbandry (I grew up in the suburbs.).

I am also unlikely to write about home beer brewing, needlepoint techniques, or college basketball rankings. And needless to say, I’m not going to provide much competition for the mommy bloggers out there.

What you will find: posts about writing, literature, culture, history, economics, and current events from a conservative-centrist perspective.

2.) I’m more of an essayist than a blogger. I know that sounds horribly pretentious, and I don’t mean it that way.

What I mean, simply, is that I prefer to write longer, more extensive pieces, versus short ephemeral posts about news-driven, ephemeral topics.

This means that while I’ll be posting multiple times per week, I probably won’t post multiple times per day.

I realize that the trend is toward the news-driven blog that constantly bombards readers with “updates”.

And there is nothing wrong with that—but that’s not my bailiwick.

3.) Comment threads reduce the distance that my muse requires

After experimenting with wide-open, unrestricted comment threads, moderated comment threads, and no comment threads, I find that I prefer the last option.

Once again, I hope this doesn't strike anyone as arrogant or elitist. I would be the first to admit that many of you are a lot smarter than I am.

Seth Godin, a far better known blogger who also doesn't allow comments, wrote the following back in 2006:

“…some of my readers are itching to find a comment field on my posts from now on. I can't do that for you, alas, and I thought I'd tell you why.  
I think comments are terrific, and they are the key attraction for some blogs and some bloggers. Not for me, though. First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning. Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them. And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters. I'm already itching to rewrite my traffic post below. So, given a choice between a blog with comments or no blog at all, I think I'd have to choose the latter.  
So, bloggers who like comments, blog on. Commenters, feel free. But not here. Sorry.”

I can’t really improve on Seth Godin’s explanation of the same policy. My comment policy is merely an acknowledgement of the fact that for me, writing is a solitary activity, not a constant, unfettered social collaboration between myself and the world’s 2.92 billion Internet users.

That said, I do encourage you to comment—if the spirit moves you—on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, or any of the numerous places online where people can discuss various topics. This is no attempt to limit anyone’s free speech in general, or to deny anyone the right to criticize me, refute my arguments, or call me out.

And should you really want to shout back at me personally and directly, you can do that via email.

4.) I also write fiction

I don’t think that a blog is necessarily the best venue for full-length works of fiction. But I’ll continue to post the occasional short story and novel excerpt here.

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So there we have it. Happy April, everyone, and many thanks to loyal readers past, present, and future.