Hardcore horror best of collection boasts scary good roster

“Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Vol. 3” (from Comet Press) is available now for pre-order. The TOC is awesome and I’m truly honored to be among the contributors.

My story “Burnt,” which first appeared in the third anthology in the “DOA” series from Blood Bound Books last year, was chosen for inclusion — and I still can’t believe it.

To see my name listed among such awesome talents as Nathan Ballingrud, Brian Hodge, Bracket MacLeod and Scott Smith, to name but a few? Are you kidding?

I can’t wait for this collection, and I can’t adquetly thank all the people who helped me finish and polish up “Burnt,” including the wonderful editors at BBB, who were so helpful and encouraging, and also the folks at Comet Press, for giving my stuff a look.

I’m truly stoked for this. Brace yourself, people.



Love, life and landscaping: Timeless troubles get a fresh face in ‘Lawn Boy’

I recently got to chat with Jonathan Evison about his new novel — “Lawn Boy,” out April 3 from Algonquin Books — and write a story for the Bainbridge Island Review.

Evison is a great writer, and I really enjoy his work. We had a great talk — about writing and underappreciated books and class and culture.

You can read the full story here. 

And be sure to check out “Lawn Boy” next month. I enjoyed it immensely.


Five (more) books deserving big screen adaptations

Last year, I singled out six terrific tomes deserving of the red-carpet treatment, beseeching any bored Hollywood execs who happened to be browsing the internet and stumble upon my writing to seek out the rights to those stories ASAP and get them before the public.

In today’s mixed bag world of big screen stock: prequels, sequels, shared universes and reboots/remakes/reimaginings, some say that Hollywood is out of ideas. Others, however, say that the derivativedream machine simply gives us what we want. After all, even the most unnecessary “Transformers” sequel raked inbig bucks, right?

Still, recent game changers in even so overplayed a genre as the superhero flick (“Wonder Woman,” “Black Panther”)show what can be done with the right treatment of the right source material. So, it seems to me that what we need now is the best of both: an innovative story with proven appeal.

There are so many great books deserving of cinematic adaptations that have gone overlooked, some for far too long.Here are a few more I’d like to see up in lights, great reads all and well worth your time  whether Hollywood comescalling or not.

1 “By Reason of Insanity” by Shane Stevens

Described by no less an authority than Stephen King himself as “One of the finest novels ever written about perfectevil,” the human-faced monster of this electrifying crime story predates Dexter and Hannibal Lecter by years  andstill outshines them in sheer malignancy.

At the center of this tale of mass murder, pursuit, and psychological terror is Thomas Bishop, a psychotic killer whobelieves he is the son of Caryl Chessman, who was executed for rape in California amid intense controversy. Subjected to unmerciful physical and mental torture by his mother from the day he’s born, Bishop eventually snaps, kills mommy dearest when he’s just 10 and winds up in an institution for the criminally insane. But that’s just thestart.

He grows up knowing the outside world only through TV, all the while learning to model normal behavior. Then, at25, he succeeds in a brilliant escape, changes his identity and begins to wander the country, murdering womenrandomly along the way.

Pursued by reporters, police, and the mob, Bishop manages to elude them all, and the search for him becomes thegreatest manhunt in U.S. history, the story of which remains one of the most vital, underrated crime novels of alltime.

Ideal director: David Fincher. This story has the sprawling timeline and vast cast of characters of “Zodiac,” thegruesome bloody horrors of “Seven,” and the twists and turns of “Gone Girl.” He’s the only man for the job.

2 “Ride a Cockhorse” by Raymond Kennedy

This story could not be more timely.

At times horrifying and simultaneously hilarious, Kennedy’s prescient prose foretold the dangers of manifest destinyand the consequences of an egomaniacal populist leader in this story of small town demagoguery.

A revolution is under way at a once sleepy New England bank as 45-year-old Frances Fitzgibbons has inexplicablygone from sweet-tempered loan officer to insatiable force of nature almost overnight. Suddenly, she’s brazenlyseducing the high school drum major, taking over her boss’s office, firing anyone who crosses her, inspiring populistfervor and publicly announcing plans to crush her local rivals en route to dominating the entire regional bankingindustry.

The terrifying new order instituted by Frankie and her offbeat goon squad (led by her devoted hairdresser) is anawesome spectacle. The novel overflows with snappy dialogue, gleeful obscenity, and more vivid characterizationthan a whole season of quality TV could handle.

Ideal director: I’d have liked to see Ted Demme get a shot at this one, as I envision it having a similar vibe as “Blow,”but since he’s deceased I suggest John Dahl, he of “Red Rock West” (1993) and “Rounders” (1998) give it a go. Toplay the leading lady, I’d ideally go with Jodie Foster, though I know she’s been more active behind the camera lately.If she’s not into it, I gotta go with Jessica Chastain.

3 “Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine” by CristinO’Keefe Aptowicz

Here’s something for the “based on a true story” fans: The life of the man behind the most gruesome museum inAmerica.

Once described as the “P.T. Barnum of the surgery room,” Thomas Dent Mütter was far more than a collector ofcuriosities, and he remains one of the lesser known titans of American medicine. The book is a mesmerizingbiography of the brilliant and eccentric medical innovator, who revolutionized surgery and founded the country’smost famous museum of medical oddities. The film could be one of the all time great biopics.

Imagine undergoing an operation without anesthesia, performed by a surgeon who refuses to sterilize his tools—oreven wash his hands. This was the world of medicine when Mütter began his trailblazing career as a plastic surgeonin Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century. Although he died at just 48, Mütter was an audaciousmedical innovator who pioneered the use of ether as anesthesia, the sterilization of surgical tools and a compassion-based vision for helping the severely deformed, which clashed spectacularly with the sentiments of his time.

Brilliant, outspoken, brazen and handsome, Mütter was flamboyant in every aspect of his life. He wore pink silk suitsto perform surgery, added an umlaut to his last name just because he could, and amassed an immense collection ofmedical oddities that would later form the basis of the Philadelphia museum that bears his name today.

Ideal director: James Mangold. He can do emotional drama, coach great performances and handle authentic action:“Cop Land” (1997), “Girl, Interrupted” (1999), “Identity” (2003) and “Logan” (2017). Also, he’s worked in both biopicsand period pieces before: “Walk the Line” (2003) and “3:10 to Yuma“ (2007), respectively. To portray the gooddoctor, I cast my vote for Taylor Kitsch.

4 “In the Valley of the Sun” by Andy Davidson

If Cormac McCarthy wrote a vampire novel, it would be this vampire novel. Suck it, “Twilight!” This is what horrorstories should be.

Troubled (to say the least) loner Travis Stillwell spends his nights searching out women in West Texas honkytonks.What he does with them doesn’t make him proud, but it does quiet the demons in his head for a little while. Hispredatory routine soon takes a terrifying turn though, when, in a desert cantina, Travis crosses paths with amysterious pale girl in red boots. Seems she’s been hunting him, and in the morning he wakes weak and bloodied inhis cabover camper, no sign of a girl, no memory of the night before.

Annabelle Gaskin spies that same camper parked behind her rundown motel and offers the pathetic, disheveledcowboy inside a few odd jobs.

By day, Travis mends the old motel, insinuating himself into the lives of Annabelle and her 10-year-old son.

By night, in the cave of his camper, he fights an unspeakable hunger.

Meanwhile, half a state away, a grizzled Texas ranger is hunting Travis down for his past misdeeds, but what hefinds will lead him to a revelation far more monstrous than he could ever imagine.

When these lives converge on a dusty autumn night, an old evil will find new life  and new blood.

Ideal director: Joel and Ethan Coen. No question.

5 “The Between” by Tananarive Due

Described by the New York Times as “part horror novel, part detective story and part speculative fiction,” the debutnovel by Due was nominated for the 1996 Bram Stoker Award and is well past due for a big screen adaptation.

When Hilton was just a boy, his grandmother sacrificed her life to save him from drowning. Now, 30 years later, hebegins to suspect that he was never meant to survive that accident and that dark forces are working to rectify themistake. When Hilton’s wife, the only elected African American judge in Dade County, Florida, begins to receive racisthate mail, he becomes obsessed with protecting his family.

Soon, however, he starts to have horrible nightmares, more intense and disturbing than any he has ever experienced.Are the strange dreams trying to tell him something? His sense of reality begins to slip away as he battles both thepsycho threatening to destroy his family  and the even more terrifying enemy stalking his sleep.

Ideal director: Karyn Kusama. She excels at quiet, nuanced horror (“The Invitation”) and she can work in gritty realism(“Girlfight”) just as well. This story requires both, and it deserves to be done well.

Bainbridge Review wins 22 awards in statewide newspaper contest

The staff here at the Review – including yours truly – cleaned up again at this year’s WNPA awards event. Check out our awesome haul …

Originally published in the Bainbridge Island Review

The Bainbridge Island Review earned 22 awards for outstanding news and advertising in the 2017 Better Newspaper Contest, presented by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

The honors included awards for the newspaper’s photography, crime and courts coverage, sportswriting, news writing, arts coverage, business features and page design, as well as advertising.

The competition included more than 1,600 entries from 59 Washington newspapers and was judged by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. The Review was judged on work published from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017.

The newspaper won 15 awards for editorial coverage, and seven advertising awards.

In all, the Review brought home seven first-place awards.

The island’s longtime weekly was also honored as one of Washington state’s best newspapers for its size. The Review earned second place in the General Excellence competition.

The Bainbridge Review also took second place for in two of the contest’s most coveted prizes: “Feature Writer of the Year” and “Ad of the Year.”

Jessica Shelton was honored with second place for her feature writing; a first time the Review has posted a top finisher. (The top award going to Bob Smith, editor of the Review’s sister paper, the Port Orchard Independent.)

The Review won second place in the Ad of the Year category, for Ace Hardware’s “Spring is Here” promotion by Vanessa Calverley and Marleen Martinez.

Calverley and Martinez also won another second place award for their “Customer Appreciation Day” ad for Ace Hardware.

The pair also won five other awards in advertising for the Review:

First place in Best Single Ad for Single Advertiser — John L. Scott Eileen Black;

First place, Half Page Color – “Beyond the Report Card”;

Second place, Smaller than Half Page Color – Peacock Family Services

Second place, Best Branding Ad; and

Third place, Full Page Color Ad — Happy Thanksgiving promotion.

In the news category, Shelton won second place for best short news story for the article about Lukas Anderson of Bainbridge Island, a winner in a nationwide recipe contest designed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Shelton also placed second in the Best Business Feature Story for the story, “Tuesdays with Melinda.”

She also won third place in long-form feature writing for her story, “Good Grief.”

Nick Twietmeyer won second place for Best Health or Medical Story for his coverage of health concerns about rubber-infused field turf.

Luciano Marano was presented with a third-place award in the Best Story on the Arts category for “Drawn From History,” a story of a graphic novel about six Nisei soldiers.

Brian Kelly won second place for crime and court reporting for his coverage of the gun scare at Bainbridge High.

Kelly also won first and second place in Best Feature Page Design.

He also was awarded the first-place prize for Best Sports News Story, for his coverage of the state champion Spartan boys swimming and diving team.

Marano also added to the honors in sportswriting for the Review, winning the Best Sports Personality Profile category with his story about BHS athletic trainer Amanda Sageser.

In photography, Marano and Kelly both brought home first-place awards.

Marano won first place in the color sports action category, while Kelly received top honors for color portraits.

Kelly also won a third-place award in black-and-white sports photography.

All told, the Kitsap News Group — which includes the Bainbridge Review, the Port Orchard Independent, Central Kitsap Reporter (and the Bremerton Patriot, which was folded into the CKR earlier this year), and the North Kitsap Herald won 74 awards, including three community service awards and three general excellence awards.

“I continue to be extremely pleased with our outstanding team of news and marketing professionals,” said Kitsap News Group Publisher Terry R. Ward.

“It’s great to see them recognized for their excellent work serving our communities,” he said.

If you liked ‘It,’ you’ll love …

Having heard from several of my friends (even several of my non-horror fan friends) how much they loved the new “It” movie, I thought I’d take a moment to celebrate the strange but wonderful “kids-coming-of-age-while-battling-evil” sub-genre in horror literature. It’s always been a favorite of mine, like a beloved spooky path branching off from the main horror highway into a dark — but also pleasantly nostalgic — neighborhood that I just can’t help but get out and take a stroll through now and then.

Yes, the new “It” movie is great. Yes, the old “It” miniseries was great. I highly recommend both. Yes, you absolutely should read the novel. If you’re willing to put in the time, it’s rewarding and thrilling in an altogether different way. It’s weird and difficult to explain and … uncomfortable for reasons that have been explored well elsewhere. It is undeniably a titan among horror novels of the 20th century, and certainly in this specific sub-genre, too.

But “It” is not an anomaly.

Other writers besides King have explored the kids-coming-of-age-while-battling-evil theme. I think it works so well because, as it’s so often been said, we enjoy horror stories in part as a way to safely rehearse death, to emerge from the darkness of the story to better appreciate our time on this planet and our own lives.

What more basic tenet of adulthood is there than the realization of one’s own mortality? As the young protagonists of these stories come together to battle the overt evil, they also learn the importance of self-reliance and friendship and all those things that will get one through the formidable thicket of the real world. It’s a perfect union.

Plus, on the very face of it, you’re immediately invested when bad things are happening to kids. Horror stories often hinge on said horror happening to those who deserve it least.

All these stories could be traced, I submit, to Ray Bradbury’s incomparable classic “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1962), which is actually my favorite book of all time. I’ve read it, well, maybe not every October. But almost every one since I first read it when I was 14-years-old.

You should start there. If you liked “It,” read “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and experience the paterfamilias of the sub-genre. It’s the perfect time of year for that book anyway. And check out the Disney movie too, if you’re in the mood for something dark to watch that won’t scare your kids/skittish friends too badly. It’s family friendly fright fare.

And, if you’re looking still more — or maybe something a little more intense — here is my list of favorite kids-coming-of-age-while-battling-evil novels. Read them, if you will, and grow the hell up.







There’s a more complete list at goodreads.com, but these are ones I can personally vouch for as being well worth your time.

‘Straight Into Darkness’ – One fan remembers Tom Petty

I wrote recently, in a tribute to my favorite filmmaker George Romero, how I was typically unaffected emotionally by celebrity deaths. Even when the bell tolls for artists whose work I really enjoy, I just don’t get swept up in the communal mourning that’s so embedded in fandom. Romero, I said, like Robin Williams before him, was an anomaly.

Then Tom Petty died.

*Nods to the sky…
“Well played, Universe. I didn’t see that one coming. Almost had myself a not sucky Monday there for a second. As if the news wasn’t bad enough already. Guess you win again.”

Side note: If anything happens to Stephen King anytime soon it’s going to be all but impossible for me avoid the need to seek professional help … and/or medication. Somebody please check up on that guy.

Tom Petty has been my favorite musician for as long as I can remember. My parents tell stories of me as a young child wandering the house with a robot-looking cassette player in tow — the kind with the blue feet as the base, the mouth into which you’d insert the tape, and a microphone on the side, attached with a twirled yellow cord — blasting the “Full Moon Fever” album continuously. I wore that tape out.

I learned all the words to Free Falling right about at the same time I learned the Pledge of Allegiance. Or my home phone number. It was that essential to my life.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were the first real concert I ever saw, too. It was Pittsburgh, 2006. A friend of mine got tickets for a show — the Allman Brothers Band was the opening act — as a high school graduation present and invited me along. It was a transformative experience.

I was fortunate enough to see them live again just recently, when the 40th anniversary tour came to Seattle. They were great. He was still amazing, a flawless entertainer and a consummate showman.

One thing in particular that struck me back in ’06, and which did again here in 2017, is the diversity of the man’s fan base. At the Seattle show, I sat in front of a middle-aged Latino-looking guy, there by himself, who screamed and squealed like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert three summers ago. He talked loudly to anybody who would listen about how much he loved Tom Petty, that he always had, and how he’d never had the chance to see him live before. It was nothing short of a pilgrimage for this guy. I shared his joy. We were fellow true believers.

There were teenagers — there alone, there with their families. There were older folks, too, and a whole swath of my fellow late 20s/early 30-ites. There were stoners and there were drunks, and many more clear-headed rock lovers, too. Some danced. Some didn’t. But everybody cheered. 

That’s what I love most about the man. He was the people’s rock star. He was never unnecessarily political. It was never more about him than it was about the music. He just rocked. For 40 years, he rocked in an undeniably awesome, wholly American way.

The world needs more Tom Petty.

My phone was flooded with texts when the news broke. Apparently, it’s one of the only things everybody who has ever met me knows — “Hey, isn’t Luke like a huge Tom Petty fan? Better give him the bad news right away!”

Thanks, all.

One such buddy o’ mine said: “It’s been 40 years since he started, right? He got out there, took a look around the country circa 2017 and said, ‘Nope. No thanks. I’m out.’”


Well, we are living in undeniably strange and trying times. But I don’t think tough times ever got Tom Petty down. He had his share of bad days, and a childhood that would have broken a man of lesser spirit, and he never seemed anything but resolute. Even his sad songs, they’re indomitable. They’re edged with hope.

The man was also a master lyricist. In fact, I submit that his work stands, not just as great song lyrics, but as some of the finest flash fiction of the 20th century. He was a peerless storyteller. So, I guess every fan probably has their own favorite lines that they’ll inscribe on their personal mental Tom Petty memorial.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I believe I’ve got mine picked out:

“I don’t believe the good times are over

I don’t believe the thrill is all gone

Real love is a man’s salvation

The weak ones fall, the strong carry on” 

-Straight Into Darkness

Six movies to help you prepare for the atomic Armageddon: It’s the end of the world, and I feel like popcorn


International news is heavy these days, right?

Sheesh. And here I thought “duck and cover” drills went out with poodle skirts and pompadours. Maybe they did fora while, but it seems everything old is truly new again  including the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

Still, it doesn’t have to be all bad. Hollywood has shown us that even in humanity’s direst of self-made messes thereis the opportunity for a good story, at least.

Nuke up some popcorn, grab a handful of Atomic Fireballs and a bubbly cup of Mountain Dew (it’s the same color, Iimagine, as radioactive waste) and check out these, my choice for the top six movies to tackle the tricky subject ofwhat exactly it will look like when we humans finally do push the big red button for the final time.

*Note: I’m omitting “Godzilla” here because, although it is an awesome allegory for nuclear war, these movies all dealdirectly with the subject of da bomb  or missile, satellite or something like that.

1. “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)

Duh, right? This one’s gotta top the list of movies depicting our mutually assured destruction. Very loosely based onthe novel “Red Alert,” this film, directed, produced and co-written by Stanley “One More Take, Please” Kubrick,satirizes the Cold War fears of nuclear conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States in a way that’sbecoming more apropos with each new White House tweet.

From the immortal: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room,” to Slim Pickens’ riding the big bombdown, this is a truly immortal American classic, and not at all a bad way to spend your final 94 minutes on Earth.

2. “Miracle Mile” (1988)

Written and directed by Steve De Jarnatt, and starring Anthony Edwards (the only guy who could possibly be in “TopGun” and “Revenge of the Nerds”) and Mare Winningham, this underappreciated cult classic takes place in a singleday and night  mostly in real time.

Edwards and Winningham meet at the La Brea Tar Pits and immediately falling in love; it’s that awesome, deep, only-in-the-movies kind of love at first sight situation that you just know leads to trouble. They make plans to meet atmidnight after she gets off of work at a nearby coffee shop, but a power failure means Edwards’ alarm doesn’t wakehim up and Winningham leaves.

Waking up and frantically realizing what happened, Edwards rushes to the shop at 4 a.m. He tries to call on a payphone (it is 1988, remember?), but only reaches her answering machine. Then, when the phone suddenly rings, hepicks it up, flooded with relief  only to hear some frantic guy telling his dad that nuclear war is about to break outin about 70 minutes.

What happens next is strange and cool and makes for a totally unique film, which spent three years in productionlimbo until De Jarnatt optioned it himself, bought back his script and set forth solo-style to make it happen (despitea $400,000 offer from the studio to buy it back after they caught a glimpse of his rewrites  which he turned down).

It’s the kind of singular vision that doesn’t come around often anymore, and absolutely worth your time.

3. “The Day After” (1983)

This movie had almost as big an impact as an actual nuclear war.

It first aired on Nov. 20, 1983, on the ABC television network. Reportedly more than 100 million people, in nearly 39million households, watched during the initial broadcast  that’s, supposedly, a 62 percent share of the viewingaudience of the day.

It was the seventh-highest rated “non-sports” show at the time, and also set a record as the highest-rated televisionfilm in history  a record it still held as recently as 2009 (though it’s currently in 16th place).

The film, which stars Steve Guttenberg, John Lithgow and JoBeth Williams, among others, depicts the devastatingeffects of a nuclear holocaust on small-town residents of eastern Kansas.

Not exactly an escapist way to take your mind off the horrors of radioactive destruction, but a solid and importantentry in the sub-genre.

4. “The Atomic Cafe” (1982)

An anomaly on this list, perhaps, but nonetheless an essential bit of nuclear-themed viewing, this documentary filmconsists of actual archival footage about nuclear war, mostly government propaganda and training films forAmerican soldiers.

The movie, arranged in collage form, features clips from early in the Cold War era that are filled with delightfullyloony misinformation. Some segments address the alleged safety of nuclear radiation itself, those “duck and cover”drills I already mentioned (what are those desks supposedly made of anyway?), and wonderfully vintage instructionsfor living in a fallout shelter.

5. “True Lies” (1994)

Easily, the most fun film on the list, this is the flick to pick if you’re looking to go laughing into that good night comezero hour.

Written, produced and directed by James “Yes, that James Cameron” Cameron, the film stars Arnold “Insert TerribleImpersonation Here” Schwarzenegger, who plays a secret operative for a covert counter-terrorism task force. Troubleis, though, his wife  Jamie Lee “Eats a lot of Yogurt” Curtis  thinks he’s just a traveling salesman.

Through a series of ridiculous misunderstandings, Curtis gets involved in her husband’s ongoing investigation of aPalestinian terrorist group known as the Crimson Jihad, whose leader (played by the truly villainous looking ArtMalik) has smuggled stolen nuclear warheads into the country via a shipment of antique statues (like ya do).

I don’t think I’m giving much away here when I tell you Arnie suddenly finds himself, wife in tow, in the thick ofthings rather quickly. And, assisted as he is by Curtis and her classic blend of Femme fatale/cool mom style, it’s aride well worth taking as Schwarzenegger saves the day  and his marriage.

This one tickles the funny bone, tugs the heartstrings, and sees enough stuff blown up to keep everyone in thefamily happy for their final movie-watching moments in this life.

6. “Until the End of the World” (1991)

This French-German sci-fi drama is directed by Wim “You Either Love Wim or Hate Wim” Wenders, the man who oncesaid: “Films can heal! Not the world, of course, but our vision of it, and that’s already enough.”

Well, he put his money where his cinematic mouth is with this 158-minute-long masterpiece of weirdwonderfulness, originally written by Michael Almereyda before Wenders decided to recraft it into “the ultimate roadmovie.”

Here’s the plot, as summarized by Wikipedia  except the super clever nicknames  because, believe me, it is achore):

“In late 1999, an orbiting Indian nuclear satellite is out of control and predicted to re-enter the atmosphere,threatening unknown populated areas of the Earth. Mass populations trying to flee the likely impact sites cause aworldwide panic.

“Caught in a traffic jam and suffering from boredom, Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) escapes the highwaycongestion by taking a side road. When she gets into a car crash with a pair of bank robbers, they enlist her to carrytheir stolen cash to Paris.

“Along the way, she meets a man being pursued by an armed party who introduces himself as Trevor McPhee(William “He’s So Good You Might Get” Hurt), and allows him to travel to Paris with her. After reaching the house ofher estranged lover, Eugene (Sam “Of Course He’s In This Movie” Neill, Claire discovers that Trevor has stolen someof the money.

“Claire then travels to Berlin and hires missing persons detective Phillip Winter to help her find Trevor throughtracking his passport and credit card  he agrees to help when he finds out Trevor has a substantial bounty on hishead.”

From there things get more complicated and more weird, but always worth the time investment this very literary filmdemands. As Alasdair Stuart, owner of Escape Artists, Inc. and cohost of the weekly sci-fi podcast Escape Pod said:“Nothing looks or movies like it, before or since its production.”

Not kidding around: A chat with Wendelin Van Draanen, famed YA author


These aren’t your parents’ children’s books.

The works of famed young adult author Wendelin Van Draanen might be geared toward shorter readers, but the serious subjects they tackle are a tall order regardless.

And Draanen has never sugar-coated her prose, a philosophy which has obviously come to pretty sweet ends. She’s the author of more than 30 novels for young adults, many of which have been translated into multiple languages, two of which have been made into movies; one a Rob Reiner-helmed feature and the other a Nickelodeon TV movie.

I recently got to chat with Draanen for the BI Review in preparation for her upcoming visit to the island to celebrate the release of her new book “Wild Bird.”

This will be Draanen’s second trip to Bainbridge, but her first for business. She recently chatted with the Review about her new book, relating to readers and the state of YA literature in today’s culture.

*This transcript originally appeared in the Bainbridge Island Review, and has been edited for length and clarity.


ME: Is this new book very different from your previous work? What do you hope readers take away from it?

WVD: It’s within the realistic young adult thing that I do. I guess what’s different about it is the setting’s completely different. It takes place in a wilderness therapy camp in the desert. And the teen that I’m writing about is very troubled. Usually I write about a character that’s going through something, but this character starts off in a really bad, belligerent, kind of antagonistic place. I guess that’s different.

I do like an uplifting ending. If you’re starting from a bad place you have room to move in that direction.

ME: What are some of your special considerations when you begin a project knowing you are writing for a certain age demographic?

WVD: Primarily I want it to be a subject that moves me and that I think is relevant to my audience. It also has to be something that I can live with for a couple of years. So if you have an idea for a book, it needs not to wear thin after a while. It needs to have some depth to it for you.

Also, I like a book that explores new territory — at least new territory for me — so I feel like in the process I’m also learning something. To keep my interest and to keep my emotion in the work, it needs to be something that resonates with me.

Read the whole interview here. 

In Defense of The Creeper – Despite The Creep: To watch or not to watch, that is the ‘Jeepers Creepers 3’ question …


Victor Salva being a certifiably reprehensible human being will not make “Jeepers Creepers 3” a bad movie any more than M. Night Shyamalan being an ostensibly decent person made “Lady in the Water” a good movie. 

The inability to separate the crimes and moral shortcomings of a creator with the objective enjoyability of their creation is, to me, a hallmark of a simplistic, naive mindset. 

As a lifelong horror fan, and also (I like to think) a decent, progressive person, I’ve been wrestling with this subject, and my own mixed feelings regarding the imminent release of the third chapter in the “Jeepers Creepers” franchise. In light of the director’s horrific past, there’s been much chatter amongst fear film fans as opening night draws near. Amidst talk of boycotts, protesting and also some defense of the film, I’ve been wondering what supporting – or boycotting – the film says (if, indeed, it says anything) about me as a consumer and a person. 

Let’s first agree, though, that the three-way relationship between art, audience and auteur is afloat in treacherous waters at the best of times. It’s a thorny issue that has surely bested better minds than mine.

I don’t object to the notion that by boycotting, or protesting, the work of a person whose actions you find abhorrent you are sending some kind of statement or message, potentially a very important one. You certainly are. Although, how effective or meaningful that statement ultimately proves is, obviously, a different matter, one worthy of its own discussion elsewhere. 

However, if you feel strongly enough to protest, or even just sit out, the film based on the past actions of the director, if that’s what you feel you need to do, I would not think of trying to dissuade you. That’s your right, after all. Follow your bliss and all that.

I’m more concerned with the fence-sitters, like myself, who want to do the right thing – but who also really want to see this movie!

I found the first two films in the franchise to be quality flicks all around. The first, especially, I recall as being one of the creepiest, most surprisingly enjoyable horror movies I’d seen in some time. I honestly, genuinely, unabashedly liked the film. 

Yes, the Creeper’s a weird mashup of beloved horror tropes. He walks like Jason, keeps roughly the same schedule as Pennywise, has a lair that would make Freddy envious, and he drives – and sort of dresses – like Mick Taylor in “Wolf Creek.” But the combo is cool and creepy, and the special effects and the acting of those around the Creeper have been skillful enough to pull it off.

Also, in defiance of all odds, the sequel was good, too! This, I remember thinking upon first seeing it, is how sequels should be. Somebody got it right, finally. 

Oh, but how I wish it could have been somebody else getting it right. 


To summarize, for those who may not know: Director Victor Salva (“Clownhouse,” “Powder,” “Rites of Passage,” Jeepers Creepers,” “Jeepers Creepers 2,” and “Rosewood Lane,” among others) was convicted of child molestation.

From snopes.com: “Salva was convicted in 1988 on charges related to the sexual molestation of 12-year-old actor Nathan Forrest Winters during the filming of his movie ‘Clownhouse.’ Salva served 15 months in prison and finished his parole in 1992.” 

The man is a registered sex offender, whose nefarious past first began to catch up to him before the release of his 1995 movie “Powder,” when Winters, along with friends and supporters, understandably protested the movie.

According to Snopes, Salva released a statement in response to the upset, saying: “I paid for my mistakes dearly. Now, nearly 10 years later, I am excited about my work as a film maker and look forward to continuing to make a positive contribution to our society.”

Producers and studio execs apparently also felt Salva had paid his debt and earned the right to move on. Also from Snopes: “Caravan Pictures, the company that made ‘Powder’ for Disney, also released a statement: ‘He paid for his crime, he paid his debt to society, said Roger Birnbaum, whose Caravan Pictures made ‘Powder’ for Disney and reportedly didn’t know of Salva’s record until the film was midway through production. ‘What happened eight years ago has nothing to do with this movie.” 

Doesn’t it, though?

It’s that last sentiment especially that I’ve found myself dwelling on as of late.

On the one hand: Here’s an obviously talented craftsman producing work, the style and subject of which I already know I enjoy, within an industry otherwise far too fond of reproducing rote, unexciting ideas, who is about to release a new film, which, judging by franchise history, will likely bring me a bit of happiness. Is that not the ultimate point of cinema?

But, on the other hand (the one wagging a disapproving finger), what we have here is a debatably remorseful (at best) predatory pervert, whose livelihood is dependent on public support via cinema ticket and/or home media sales – in essence economic approval – asking me to overlook his awful crimes in return for his having entertained me. Is my entertainment so very important? Are there not other things I could do with my time and money, other artists I could support? 

What’s a conscientious fright fan to do? 

First, obviously, one must concede, as I now have, that there’s no right answer. You have to be yourself when you lay down in bed at night, and you have to see yourself in the mirror in the morning. The real question is: Can you live with your actions? 

I can – and that’s why I’m going to see “Jeepers Creepers 3.”

I have four specific reasons for having reached that conclusion, though I’m still not advocating my choice for anyone else. I’m just offering some thought for those still waffling, because I do feel that choosing to see, or not see, this movie has larger implications for each of us who bothers to ask the question.

1. Salva was already punished. 

This is not a Roman Polanski situation here (though, I suspect there’s some residual cultural anger at that guy – and Bill Cosby too – sneaking into this discussion, as if we should hold Salva accountable for all sex criminals in the arts, even the ones we didn’t get to prosecute). 

Also, creepy as the whole Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn situation may be, prevalent and persistent though the sex abuse allegations might remain, Woody Allen has been thus far officially innocent, making Hollywood’s second favorite go-to living example of the “It’s complicated” excuse also technically not applicable here. 

Salva was found guilty and did his time. He has – so far as we know – never broken the conditions of his probation, and has obviously moved forward in life to be a productive, contributing person in the only line of work he knows. If the guy had been a tax attorney, or a welder or a civil engineer, this discussion wouldn’t even be happening.

It is because we, the audience, feels some sort of ownership over the movies we love, and because we feel the movies we love say something about us personally, that this particular case seems more important, that perhaps there is something greater at stake than there otherwise might be.

And, not that I’m in any way trying to downplay the contempt I have for the man as a person, but that’s really not fair to Salva, right?

If you believe – as I do – that the criminal justice system is, as it purports to be, at least as much about rehabilitation as it is about punishment, then (as uncomfortable a thought as this may be) the guy’s actually kind of a success story.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I do think there’s something to the idea that it all means more, or seems to, because Salva works in movies. There are a whole lot of sex offenders out there in the world working for a living like anybody else, and nobody pickets. But Salva has the gall to be (semi) successful in a very visible and competitive field, and there is something undeniably upsetting about that.

But, then I think: Would we all be more comfortable if the guy was rotting away in some HUD trailer living on the dole, using his criminal record as an excuse to live on handouts forever?

2. The movies have (so far) been good. 

I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe there’s any sort of nobility in denial. I liked the first two films and I want to see the third. The world is an ugly place. If what brings you joy isn’t actually bringing physical harm to another person, I say get your joy in while you can.

Life sucks, then you die – and the road between those two points is shorter than you think.

I work hard and I deserve a fun night at the movies. Thinking about all the rest of this is, realistically, optional. There’s plenty of (almost certainly) more pressing things to worry about, if one’s looking for things to get worked up about.

3. You vote with your dollars. 

That thing I said before, about your seeing the movie being a kind of economic approval, I absolutely do approve – of this movie, that is.

At least I think I do, it’s not even out yet. But what I mean by that is that I approve of it being made.

The first film was great, and the sequel was very effective, it proved there was more story to be told and that it could be done well. A third installment was warranted. That’s the key, by the way, Hollywood (are you listening?). That sequel was earned, deserved and desired, not automatic and scheduled and budgeted for before the first film was even out. 

What would be a better horse for me and my (admittedly scarce) expendable dollars to back? A 73rd “Transformers” movie? How about the 19th “Saw” installment? It’s been 10 minutes, aren’t we do for a new “Spiderman” reboot? Maybe I should just shut up, get in line and enjoy the next mindless mess of rehashed ’80s/’90s fare the Tinseltown execs want to somehow force Dwayne Johnson into this month?

Nay, says I. Hell, nay. 

If we’re going to live in a world of sequels and remakes, let us at least insist on interesting ones, right? And “Jeepers Creepers 3” has, judging from the trailers and despite its complications, at least the potential to be interesting.

I approve of that kind of movie, even as I desperately wish somebody else was behind it. 

4. Decency is not an indicator of ability.  

Returning to my opening statement: Good people don’t necessarily make good movies – or write good books, create good art or tell good jokes. It doesn’t mean the work is without merit. 

William Burroughs murdered his wife, and indeed wrote in the introduction to “Queer” that it was the event which moved him to become a writer. He’s downright venerated.

James Brown was arrested repeatedly for instances of domestic violence. 

Joan Crawford was not exactly “Mother of the Year” material, to say the least.

Jackson Pollack’s no one’s role model, I should hope, and you better watch what you say to Tonya Harding on the subject of personal conduct. She still knows people… 

Also, a genuinely disturbing number of famous figures have killed people in car wrecks, and were then held to widely varying degrees of culpability before being almost uniformly allowed to return to their privileged lives and freedom scot-free.

Sid Vicious murdered Nancy Spungen, but the Sex Pistols haven’t so much as lost their spot on the Hot Topic t-shirt rack. 

Mike Tyson is a convicted sex offender, but wasn’t he funny in “The Hangover?” That makes it OK, right? 

Tupac, too, did some time for first-degree sexual abuse.

All that is to say nothing of the numerous pro athletes arrested for battering a spouse and/or paramour so often one might think it’s just an addition to their workout routine.

Ernest Hemingway was an abusive parent, and an awesomely destructive drunk. Ask a high school English teacher if his work is important… 

H.P. Lovecraft was a vehement racist. Roald Dahl, too. And he cheated on his wife with her good friend for years.

Marlon Brando was certainly nobody’s poster boy for virtue either. 

Martha Stewart’s a felon, too. But, I still spent last Thanksgiving watching her be adorable in the kitchen with Snoop Dogg (also a felon, by the way). 


The list could go on and on, but the point, I think, is made. I’m a fan of the work done by almost all those people, and I don’t feel like I need to qualify or justify that appreciation. We all like what we like at the end of the day. 

And I like “Jeepers Creepers.” 

In the worlds of sports and entertainment — unlike in politics, say, or law enforcement — the person is not the product. Their values and behavior must be considered separately from their personal actions. They have a skill, and the product, or the performance, is what we must judge.

I will judge “Jeepers Creepers 3” on its own merit, regardless of who is behind the camera.

And, should the third film earn my loyalty, I’ll be in line for the fourth one too.