fiction, media, rock-n-roll

21st-Century Scop Header

scop (noun):

Old English – bard, minstrel, storyteller

Maintenance Time: Creative Hands at Work

Things at this site aren’t as messy as that men’s room in “This Way to Egress.” Nevertheless, you’re likely to find the layout looking a bit different, maybe even a little messy while web designer Will Horner (of W. H. Horner Editorial & Design) and I work to give things an overdue upgrade.

With more users accessing the web on mobile devices, we’re hoping to develop a design that works on a variety of platforms. To that end, in the days ahead we’ll be making some changes to the headers, margins, and overall designs — changes that we hope will work more effectively on the kinds of screens people are using today.

I also plan to update some sections, particularly on the Books, Stories, and Music pages, where I’d like to include more dynamic content and purchase links.

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, drop us a note in the comment section or via the contact tabs (Facebook, Twitter, Email), which you’ll currently find along with the website’s section tabs at the bottom of each page.

It’s a big job. But it’s going to be great when it’s finished. Just ask my colleague Ron the Janitor from “This Way to Egress.” He’s the expert on big projects.

The 21st-Century Scop on the set of  Nightmare Cinema.
Ron the Janitor in a still from the film.
Nightmare Cinema. Cranked Up Films, 2019.


Fade In:
Talking Scary Movies with Bob Scott of CSW

Last month, following the release of Nightmare Cinema, I had the chance to drop by PCTV-21 for a conversation with Bob Scott of Carnegie Screenwriters.

Bob is a screenwriter, playwright, poet, actor, director, producer, stage manager, and host of the series Fade In, now in its third season on PCTV-21.

Since its debut in 2016,  Fade In has explored the many facets of indie filmmaking through interviews with writers, producer, directors, actors, crew members and other industry professionals with connections to Pittsburgh.

If you have any interest in indie movies and the people who make then, you owe it to your self to check out Fade In.

In addition to producing the show, Carnegie Scriptwriters holds regular scrip-readings at the Third Street Gallery in Carnegie and recently hosted a script and screen festival at The Tull Family Theater in Sewickley. Monthly meetings are currently held on the third Saturday of each month from 10:00 am – 12:30 pm at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

In all, CSW makes it clear that indie filmmaking is alive and well in Pittsburgh.

My conversation with Bob Scott will air in September on PCTV-21 ( Comcast Channel 21, Verizon Channel 47, and on-line at, Thursday evenings at 8:30, but you can catch it all now on CSW’s YouTube Channel or by clicking the player below.

Give it a click. I’ll meet you there.

Recommended Horror:
Good Stuff You Might Have Missed

Horror exploded in the 1970s. Following the runaway success of Rosemary’s Baby and fueled by the political turmoil of the time, horror publishing rode a wave that didn’t break until the late 1980s. That phenomenon is explored in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell (Quirk 2017), which presents a road map to the horror that filled the bookracks of drugstores, supermarkets, and newsstands of the day. Some of those books were amazingly good. Most weren’t. And therein lay the dilemma —  separating the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the curds, the high-octane from the unprocessed crude. It wasn’t easy, and toward the end of the run, the glut of mediocre and outright-bad product led to a genre implosion by the early 90s. Something similar is happening today, but with digital platforms taking the place of those ubiquitous 20th-century bookracks.

So many titles. How does a reader find the good stuff? That was one of the questions explored at last week’s Confluence panel The Best of Recent Horror, where moderator Darrell Schweitzer led a discussion that identified some of the panelists’ favorite works from recent years.

First off, Darrell Schweitzer recommended a Japanese vampire novel that he reviewed in Dead Reckonings 23. A Small Charred Face (Haikasoru 2017) by Kazuki Sakuraba presents a fresh take on the familiar vampire trope, proving something that Ellen Datlow writes in The Best of the Best Horror of the Year, namely that “there’s a reason these tropes […] don’t go away. They are not tired, they are not worn out. And as long as writers take a fresh look at them and continue to create bracing takes on them, they never will be.” According to Schweitzer’s review, A Small Charred Face is such a novel. I’ve ordered my copy.

Another highly recommended novel is The Ritual of Illusion (PS Publishing 2013) by Richard Christian Matheson, which not only presents a frightening tale set against the backdrop of the Hollywood film industry but does so in a format perfectly suited for a story about movies. Told as a series of brief quotations, the novel might be considered a collection of flash fiction stories were it not for the compelling way the snippets link together — like single frames of film — to create a persistence-of-vision narrative.

I’ll be reviewing The Ritual of Illusion in more detail in an upcoming post. For now, I urge you to check it out. Highly recommended.

The panelists also talked about a few favorite short stories and novellas from the past decade or so, foremost among them “The Church on the Island” by Simon Kurt Unsworth, originally published in At Ease with the Dead (Ash-Tree Press 2007) and currently available in The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror (Robinson 2010). Benefiting from a rich sense of place and a whispering weirdness that recalls the best work of Robert Aickman, the story explores the place of evil in the world and the way that a single person might keep it at bay. Nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the story is worth seeking out, as is everything else Unsworth has written.

You can read more about Simon Kurt Unsworth’s work and hear a short audio interview here.

A few of the other noteworthy stories mentioned during the panel included “The Lowland Sea” (2009) by Suzy McKee Charnas, “Little America” (2012) by Dan Chaon, and “Black and White Sky” (2010) by Tanith Lee — all of which can be found in The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: 10 Years of Essential Short Horror Fiction edited by Ellen Datlow. Indeed, the many Best-Of collections currently available from established publishers are one of the best ways of finding clear signals amid the noise.

Some people claim that horror fiction is dead, that all the truly great novels and stories have been written. The author Saul Bellow once dismissed such of logic in a thoughtful review of Ralph Ellson’s Invisible Man. “Fine novels are few and far between,” he wrote. “But then fine anythings are few and far between.” The good stuff is out there. Seek it, and enjoy!

This Weekend @ Confluence:
The Best Recent Horror & 50’s SF

This weekend some of the top names in science fiction, fantasy, and horror will gather at the Pittsburgh Airport Sheraton for the latest installment of Confluence, the region’s long-running sf convention, sponsored by Parsec, Pittsburgh’s premier science fiction and fantasy organization.

The convention will run three days, July 26-28, and I’m looking forward to being there Saturday to take part in panel discussions on two of my favorite subjects: mid-20th-century science fiction and 21st-century horror.

First up will be “Beyond Campbell: The SF Explosion of the 1950s” (2:00 PM). The panel will be moderated by Eric Leif Davin, past president of Parsec and current Pitt lecturer. Joining us will be writer-editor Darrell Schweitzer and poet Herb Kauderer.

Here’s a summary of the topic from this year’s program book:

In the 1940s, SF was dominated by Astounding, but the field expanded rapidly in the 1950s, starting at the beginning of the decade with two new major magazines: F&SF and Galaxy. The decade also saw more novels (including a major series of YA works) and more anthologies. The panel looks at the major developments and lasting impact of the 1950s.

As one of the panelists, I plan to touch on how the novels of the decade gave us some of the best examples of major sf tropes that continue to be popular today. Consider, for example, the planetary colonization of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (1950), the depiction of robotics in Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel (1953), the post-apocalyptic dystopia of Walter M Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), the military action of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959), and the alien-invasion scenario of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1959).

But 1950’s science fiction wasn’t just about traditional novels and short stories. Case in point, the decade began with the publication of the science fiction comics Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, which together delivered a 44 issue run of graphic science fiction, the quality of which has yet to be surpassed (IMHO).

In addition, the middle of the decade saw the release of some groundbreaking science fiction films, including the big-screen technicolor wonders This Island Earth (1955) and Forbidden Planet (1956), both delivering the kind of cinematic sf thrills that would not be rivaled for over a decade later.

My second panel of the day will be “The Best of Recent Horror” (5:00 PM). Moderated by Darrell Schweitzer, it will also feature writers A.M. Rycroft, Frederic Durbin, and Christine Soltis. Here, I’m looking forward to recommending some of my favorite stories, novels, and films from the past decade — works that bear out something that editor Ellen Datlow writes in her introduction to the recently published The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: “One thing I’ve realized […] is how much high-quality short horror fiction is being published now, more so than even ten years ago.” I’m still putting together my recommended list for this one, so rather than offering a preview, I’ll try to post a summary of the panel’s discussion sometime after the con. Stop back next week, and I’ll list some of the works covered in our conversation. Or, better yet, drop by Confluence on Saturday and get it all first hand. I’ll hope to see you there.

Confluence will be held July 26-28 at the Sheraton Pittsburgh Airport Hotel, 1160 Thorn Run Road, Coraopolis, PA 15108. More information is available at the convention website.