Comey the Homey and Much More on the Latest Podcast

My good buddy Chris Ingalls joins me for another edition of the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss everything from former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony in front of a congressional committee to latest and upcoming movies, including Alien Covenant, Blade Runner and Wonder Woman, the Stephen King multiverse and we throw shade at an old friend.

Got 90 minutes to kill? Listen in, it’s better than whatever you’re doing.

The Dark Truth Cover Revealed

It is with great pleasure and pride that I reveal the cover for my debut novel, “The Dark Truth,” which is a dark, gritty, bloody, neo-Gothic vampire tale set in modern-day San Francisco. The book, which took me 13 months to write, will be available for pre-order in January and released in February via Trifecta Publishing.  It will be released in trade paperback and e-book.

Follow me on Twitter, @GetTheKnaak (#TheDarkTruth) and like my author page on Facebook to make sure you get the latest info on the book.

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The Death of the American Picnic

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My cousins Dave and Dave, my cousin Bonnie’s husband Tom and your humble narrator at my last family reunion five years ago.

I don’t know when it died. I have a pretty good idea how though. The American picnic appears to be dead. At least the ones that I remember are dead. Am I too nostalgic? Have times changed that much? Or am I just pining for days gone by that I’ll never get back?

Most deaths are traumatic, sudden. This has been slow, glacial.

I’m not talking about family reunions, which I am sure take place on the regular. Heck, I helped organize one a few short summers ago. I’m talking about holiday weekend and spontaneous treks to the park – state parks and county parks. You know the ones I am talking about. You load up the car with dishes to pass. Everyone has their assigned bring-alongs – aluminum foil, buns, potato chips, potato salad, hot dogs, hamburgers, deviled eggs, charcoal, lighter fluid, beverages, condiments. There was sports equipment and games to bring too. Ball gloves, baseballs and softballs and bats, frisbees and lawn darts.

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy tells a great story about the dangers of lawn darts.

In my family, like it was/is for many I’m sure, Memorial Day was the kickoff to summer. My parents and I packed up the car and piled in it. We drove to the agreed upon park and met up with my father’s sister, her husband and my first cousins. I wish memory served but I think my Uncle Freddy would show up way early, by himself, then complain for 30 minutes that everyone else was late.

Somebody would scrape the community Hibachi and then cover it with tin foil. The kids would get some game going and we would play and roughhouse until the food was ready. Tablecloths were draped over the wooden picnic tables and held down by rocks to keep the spring breeze from turning the table covering into an erstwhile kite.

We’d sit and eat. Someone always got into something they shouldn’t – a mud puddle, a creek, a beehive (yes David, I’m talking about you). We’d go swimming in the pond or the lake – whichever that particular park featured.

Some of these late spring gatherings were large affairs, especially as we got older and folks got married and had kids. Memorial Day was just the kickoff, we’d get together for the 4th of July, and have a combo birthday picnic since many of my cousins were summer babies. We may have even had Labor Day picnics too, the memory fails on that.

But my parents were fond of intimate picnics as well. We’d fill up a carry-along jug with Kool-Aid, water or juice, pack sandwiches and chips, and get in the car and drive to a random state or county park. We’d hike or walk and find a shady spot to sit and eat. We’d bring the ball gloves or the frisbee or a Korean throw and catch game with a plastic ball and wicker rackets. We would do this on several weekend occasions during my summer vacations from school.

My parents continued this tradition after I graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Navy. They’d pile the dog into the car, pick up a bucket of chicken and drive to a park and spend the day under a tree while playing fetch with their yellow lab, Princess.

If I visited during spring or summer, there was always a picnic to go to. My activities may have changed – beer replaced pop, I smoked, I hung out with the adults – but it didn’t take much to drag me into a game of frisbee or softball or touch football.

I have opined on more than one occasion that I don’t see many people outside anymore, especially kids. We’ve become a society of shut-ins with our WiFi, cable TV, broadband Internet, binge-watching, gaming consoles, etc. This spring it seems more people are out, which has to be a good thing. I doubt it will last as temperatures in my Northern California town are starting to rise. Where I live, many of us have backyards, some have pools. I’m sure we can’t all possibly spend these beautiful, warm spring/summer days indoors, especially now that school is out for the summer for countless school districts, with many more to come in the coming days and weeks.

On a recent podcast, I discussed that we parents of a certain age don’t introduce our children to certain types of music, most notably jazz, like our parents did. I think this is true of picnics too. CBS Sunday Morning aired a piece this morning about how little vacation time we take, and the various reasons why. Have our occupations commanded so much of our attention and contributed to fatigue and miasma that we prefer to spend our weekends in our abodes? I am fortunate enough to have a pool. I have a relaxing body of water in my backyard. I suppose that’s my excuse.

I recently took my son to a park to play basketball. We have a hoop out front, but I tire of yelling “car” every three minutes so I like to go to a park with a court so we can play uninterrupted or without the fear of vehicular manslaughter. There was a man at the park and he was setting up for something big. He had the pavilion all to himself and he looked like he was getting ready for one of my old childhood family-style picnics. But he was there all by himself…for a long time. He had the tablecloths out, charcoal and the Hibachi going. I felt bad for him until folks started to arrive. But even then, some attendees showed up, dropped off their dish to pass, then left. We didn’t stay long enough to see how this all played out so I hope those folks came back. It still didn’t seem like they knew how to picnic. Everyone just kind of milled around. But who am I to criticize these people for how they get together?

Maybe I was a little jealous or envious that this family was going to have a day like I used to have with my family. I have hundreds of second cousins, most in New York, but numerous others up and down the eastern seaboard. So, I’d have to travel some, and it would take some organizing. Hence the family reunion a few years ago, it was our first full family reunion in 20 years and 100 people showed.

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Maybe the picnic of old has evolved into the backyard get-together. Maybe we did the parks because we didn’t have the room to have a large picnic gathering that included enough games and activities to keep the kiddies occupied. We entertained more last summer than we have the nearly nine years we’ve lived here. The S’mores wench was active, and I do enjoy the swim-up S’mores bar.

This is not to say that people don’t hop into a car and head to a nearby beach, we’ve certainly done that on a few occasions. But it seems like those excursions include eating at a local restaurant in the beach community. Maybe it’s California. Maybe natives of the left coast don’t picnic, maybe they never did. Maybe folks in the northeast or the Midwest or in the deep south still do it.

I threw a poll up for two hours on Twitter today and got no responses. I also flat out asked the question in a Tweet and got no answers. I asked the question on Faceboook, and although I didn’t get that many replies, it sure seems to me that the American picnic is dead. When it died seems to vary depending on who you ask. For some it was fairly recent, for others it died a long time ago.

Do I miss picnics? Do I mourn them? Those are not easy questions to answer, especially given my penchant for nostalgia. I have fond memories of my family picnics. I have some photos of a few memorable ones. Maybe that’s what I miss about them, the people. Most of the then-adults we’d picnic with are deceased, aunts, uncles…my parents.

It seems like the tradition died with them.

Plethora of Topics on the Mother of All Podcasts

My man Chris Ingalls, music guru at www.popmatters.com drops by for his regular appearance on the Get the Knaak podcast. We discuss everything from Yo Yo Ma’s latest with a couple of unlikely collaborators to the unreliable narrator style of fiction. You’ll get a dose of politics to go along with a lively discussion about what’s happening in TV and film. And, as always, we discuss writing and literature – but not in a dull boring way.

Following in Some Giant Footsteps

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My cloth-bound copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a gift from my dear departed mother, is one of my most prized possessions.

I think we are all influenced by literature in some way. From the moment we are introduced to it, we either gravitate toward it or run from it, screaming. I belong to the group of people who did the former, although I was never much of a fan of the required reading in high school. However, there were some classics that helped mold the reader and writer I became.

Along with the Alcott, Salinger, Shakespeare, Orwell, et al, tomes that we were part of the curriculum in my junior and senior high schools, I developed the need to seek out stories that appealed to me. The Black Stallion by Walter Farley held particular interest when I was young. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was one of the first novels I ever read for “fun.” John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men stuck with me. I developed an affinity for horror fiction, Gothic horror in particular in the process. I also enjoyed weird tales and science fiction.

I couldn’t have been more than nine or 10 years old the first time I read Dracula, and then shortly thereafter Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. How apropos that title is, because it helped ignite a lifelong love of books. I read Isaac Asimov, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. I read Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury, and I consumed H.P. Lovecraft.

H.P. Lovecraft’s greatest creation – Cthulhu

I owe quite a bit to Lovecraft. His stories of the weird, his tales of descents into madness, his Cthulhu Mythos – and the movies these stories inspired – helped forge a lifelong bond with my best friend. They also taught me that good horror fiction pulls back the veil just enough to give you a glimpse and that a full view is too much for the human mind to handle. Lovecraft also inspired countless writers (including yours truly) including Stephen King. And you can’t tell me that Clive Barker wasn’t influenced as well.

One of the greatest things I ever read in horror fiction was King’s Night Shift. To this day I consider it the best collections of short stories I have ever seen. I also have a book of short stories called Prime Evil – a collection of terror written by several authors. King’s The Night Flier leads off Prime Evil. This book is the only volume I have ever found that contains The Night Flier.

Years ago I also became aware of the Beat Generation, the Beatniks. Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and that crowd of hepcats. Funny thing is, I didn’t read anything by them, and I was just enthralled by who and what they were. Kerouac oozed cool to me. His reputation as the progenitor of quintessential second half of 20th century American literature exceeded anything I had endeavored to read. But On the Road was always on my “to read” list.

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Reading On the Road on the road a few years ago.

I finally got around to reading On the Road a couple of years ago. It affected me. Not many things affect me in this way. I’m sure I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to say or write that. I found that Kerouac’s narrative style was eerily similar to my blog style. This was further confirmed as I started to read The Unknown Kerouac, which was translated from the original French just last fall. I found Kerouac’s journals and essays to be very similar to my blogging style. I am no Kerouac. His descriptions of the world around him are pure poetry. I am a blunt instrument compared to the King of the Beats. But I can turn out 1,000 words in a blog at the drop of a hat.

I followed up On the Road with The Dharma Bums. What I have found with Kerouac is that when he is moving, when he is “on the road” so to speak, he is brilliant and I love him. When he is stationary, when he is trying to figure it all out, he bores the hell out of me.

But his prolific period, when he was stoned out of his mind on Benzedrine – he wrote On the Road in three weeks and The Dharma Bums in two – is the stuff of legend. Ginsberg said he was worthless while he was taking it, but Kerouac…Jack spewed prose while whacked out on speed. I’m powered by coffee and Scotch.

I recently learned of a Beatnik/Lovecraft connection and my mind was blown. Apparently Burroughs attended a lecture or class taught by a huge fan of Lovecraft’s named Robert Barlow. After several failed attempts at becoming a writer, he became an anthropologist and taught in Mexico. Burroughs, on the run from an alleged drug charge, attended Barlow’s lectures on Mayan culture. The Naked Lunch apparently emanated from this time. A brilliant article from The New Yorker discusses this more articulately than I ever could.

I’ve always envied the wildly successful authors. King, Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark, Nora Roberts, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Jackie Collins, Dan Brown, Danielle Steel, just to name a few. Koontz has long been my favorite. I own 26 of his works of fiction.

IBM_SelectricWhen I started consuming works of horror and thriller fiction, I had the mind to write a novel. During my time aboard the USS Saratoga during the first Gulf War, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I wrote letters home in prose. I used an IBM Selectric electric typewriter. Hell, I told short stories rather than write letters. After writing for our cruise book and deployment newsletter, shipmates asked, “what the hell are you doing here?”

It wasn’t until 2011 that I had an idea for a book. I shared the beginnings of something written in the third person with a cousin, who is also an aspiring writer. His feedback stung. It was clear that I had no idea what I was doing when it came to novel writing. “Head hopping,” “show, don’t tell,” all these terms and techniques were foreign to me. I put it away. A year ago January I dragged it out. I took my cousin’s suggestions, I rewrote it from the first person perspective and it took off. Thirteen months later I had a finished product. I told the story I wanted to tell. Within a month I was under contract with a publisher.

I have written a dark, bloody, exciting vampire tale set in modern-day San Francisco. It’s called The Dark Truth and it is due out in trade paperback and e-book in February.

I have often joked that I had to live past the age of 47. Lovecraft died at 47. Kerouac died at 47. I am 47. I’ll be 48 in a few months. Lovecraft and Kerouac produced a tremendous amount of published work by the time they died. My sports writing is one thing. I’ve written articles that number well over 1,000 that live on the Internet. But, fiction? Well. I’m just getting started. But in nine short months I will join my literary heroes as a “published author.”

And I am just now starting to pull back that veil.

Facebook Writing Prompt

A few months ago, an old military pal, Paula, posted one of these Facebook things and encouraged her online community to do it with her. Now, I don’t know how many folks have participated in this particular viral thing. However, when I looked at it, I thought of it more as a writing prompt. None of these things, to me, can be answered yes or no. So, I thought I would give it a whirl with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Tattoos………………….no. I am not opposed; I just haven’t gotten one yet. I did see a male motorcycle rider today with a tramp stamp. I firmly believe that if you are going to get one, spend some money and make sure you find a capable artist.

Piercings……………….no. I did have my ear pierced once a long time ago, it lasted four days before I took the stud out and let the hole close up.

Children………………..yes, two, one at home, one who lives with his mom in Florida.

Surgeries………………..yes, technically three, unless you want to count oral surgeries. Knee, butt and back. Don’t ask about the middle one. There’s a blog entry for that somewhere in the archive.

Broken Bones ……….yes, fractured my elbow once, fell off my bike when I was 11 I think. Pretty sure I broke my pinky during a flag football practice/scrimmage in Iceland but I never got it looked at.

Shot a gun………………I am ex-military so, yeah.

Quit a job………………..Quit, fired, what’s your point?

Flown on a plane…….more times than I can count, although the first time wasn’t until I was 18 and I was on my way to boot camp just outside of Chicago.

Gone zip lining………..no, but there are some batshit crazy guys in Wales who have one I’d like to try.

Given CPR……………….no, almost had to. We lost 21 sailors in a ferry accident off the coast of Haifa, Israel, 1990, and I was standing by on the hangar deck.

Been to Canada…………….yes, love Canada. Toronto, Winnipeg, Niagara Falls, been to a lot of places in Canada, including Canadian Tire.

Ridden in an ambulance…..no, almost. Was checked out in the back of one when I wrecked a car when I was in high school.

Been to Europe………………..yes, London, England; four places in Turkey.

Stamps in Passport(s) ……..yes, in addition to England, Mexico.

Been to Washington D.C….yes, stationed there for three years. Went as part of a class trip in grade school as well.

Florida………………………unfortunately.

Colorado…………………yes, it’s growing on me.

Mexico……………………………yes, last year for the first time. Best tacos ever.

Las Vegas………………………..yes, if you count a layover at McCarran Airport. They have slot machines in the freaking airport. Of course they do.

Sang karaoke………………..no. Nobody needs to hear me sing. Although I am a professional in the car singer, I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Had (a) pet(s)…………………yes, currently? Three cats, a dog, four turtles, Lord knows how many Koi fish, and several vagrant lizards and spiders.

Been downhill skiing……….yes, once, disastrous experience, still think I owe the ski resort money for a binding.

Ability to read music ………no, took piano lessons in grammar school, didn’t even get to Chopsticks. I am not a musical people.

Rode a motorcycle…………..no, I like at least 3,000 pounds of car around me when I go careening down the highway at 75 miles per hour.

Rode a horse…………………….yes, unassisted no…rode a camel once too.

Stayed in hospital…………….kinda, just not overnight.

Donated blood………………..no, my blood stays in my body there Drac.

Driven a stick shift……………Yes, learned on my dad’s 1979 Ford Mustang, four on the floor and four cylinders. It wouldn’t go faster than 82 m.p.h. Believe me, I tried.

Ride in Police Car ………..Military Police count?

Grandkids……………………no, although several people have accused me.

Driven a Boat ……………..yes! My wife didn’t think I could, but I showed her. “Just because you were in the Navy doesn’t mean they let you drive the boat.” Yeah well, I drove a damn speedboat, so there. I came into the slip a little hot, but, whatever. Everyone survived.

Eaten Escargot ……………no, never have, never will. Bleah.

Seen a UFO………………..um…

Been on a Cruise………..yes, if you count the USS Saratoga. Other than that, no. And you’ll never get me on a cruise ship either.

Run out of Gas…………..yes, in my own damn garage no less. Shut up, it’s not funny.

Eat Sushi……………………yes, but where I come from we call it “bait.”

Seen a Ghost……………..seen? No. Experienced? That’s a blog for a different day, but yes, three times.