Honesty

Honesty. It’s what everyone says they want. Go ahead. Ask them. Ask yourself.

But when it comes right down to it, a lot of people can’t handle honesty. Take a good, long look at yourself, at your life, and tell me if you’re completely honest. You’re not. Neither am I (just in case you think I’m being judgmental). We tell lies all the time. From little white lies to big whoppers. We even tell them without realizing it.

Those lies are generally told to make ourselves look better: “I was late because of traffic.”

Well, if you know traffic is bad that time of day, leave a little earlier. Yes, there are times when traffic is way worse than you expected. Maybe there was an accident. That always ties things up to no end. I’m not saying everything is your fault. But I’d bet more of it is than you’d like to admit. I know it is for me.

Usually, we’re late because we didn’t leave early enough.

That’s just one example, though. There are others.

2010-11-22-too-much-facebook“I couldn’t get the report done because there was too much to do (and I was spending too much time on Facebook).”

“I wasn’t able to write much on my book this week because things got in the way (and I spent more time than I should have playing video games).”

“I’m not going to be able to come over and see you after all because I let housework pile up (from spending too much time playing games—on Facebook).”

But these are, relatively speaking, trivial things. Yeah, you’re disappointing someone, and that’s not good. But life is full of disappointment, and if you don’t get used to it real quick, you’re gonna be in really bad shape.

There are other, deeper lies we tell ourselves—and, after all, we lie more to ourselves than we do others. And we’re the easiest person to lie to, so we get away with it far more often than we do lying to others.

I see it online a lot. Someone takes exception to what someone else says, especially if it’s a celebrity/politician we don’t like. I’m just enough of a curmudgeon these days to try and call people on it, and they don’t like it. This is where I see people who really don’t want honesty as much as they claim.

A recent example would be the hullabaloo over something Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty said at a prayer breakfast. Of course, this isn’t the first time Phil’s said somethingPhil-Robertson the public hasn’t agreed with, but maybe this one is a bit more egregious than some others. He was apparently trying to illustrate what happens when you don’t follow God’s laws, and used the example of some criminal element breaking into the home of an atheist family, raping the daughters and mother and killing all of them, all the while spouting doggerel about how it can’t be wrong because, as atheists, the don’t recognize right and wrong the way good Christians do, and people took exception to the example Phil used.

Now, on one level, I can agree with them. Phil’s example, at best, is naïve, to say the least. Atheists—most of them, anyway—have a moral code every bit as stringent as Phil Robertson’s. The vast majority of them believe they only have this life, while they’re alive, to get it right. There’s no blood of Jesus to wash their sins away. They are one hundred percent accountable for their actions.

Now, I happen to find many atheists far too condescending of anyone who believes there is an afterlife or any kind of spiritual dimension to life. They look down on such believers as naïve children, and they’re not a bit above letting them know that. They’re generally—at least most of the ones I’ve come across—somewhat insufferable and smug in their positions. They want everyone to be respectful of their beliefs—and they are beliefs, because you can’t prove a negative—but they can’t quite seem to drudge up respect for anyone who’s spiritual.

Either way, Phil Robertson’s statements showed his ignorance. But what most folks seemed to take exception to was his rather graphic example, and I have to admit that it nn_05ami_isis_140819was more extreme than was needed. But when one poster compared fundamentalists like Robertson to members of ISIS, I had to bite my tongue. Robertson’s example was graphic, I’ll admit, but—and here’s the important part—it was hypothetical.

That means it didn’t really happen.

That means it’s no different from me writing about a similar incident in one of my crime novels.

And, I’m sorry, but I know lots of fundamentalist Christians, and I have yet to see one of them post a beheading video while wearing a mask. I have yet to see a group of them burn children or enemy pilots alive in a cage in order to make an example out of them.

The online community—and the very biased mainstream media—has created this image of Christians that doesn’t really exist outside of Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk. And most fundamentalists I know disapprove of the actions WBC undertakes. We hear people from all over the world protesting that the actions of a few Muslims like ISIS don’t represent the faith as a whole, and yet we’re ready and willing to jump all over Christians as a whole because of idiots like Phil Robertson and WBC.

That’s not honesty.

That’s hypocrisy.

One of the worst forms of dishonesty, as far as I’m concerned.

Being honest with yourself is hard. I know. I’ve been telling myself for a long time now that, yes, I’m overweight, but it’s not that bad. I carry it well. It’s mostly my belly.

And then I saw a picture of myself sitting in a chair at the OWL conference back in February. It’s at one of the keynote sessions, and I happen to be looking at my phone for some reason. The simple truth is, I look awful. I’m this blob sitting in a folding chair, thinking he’s not that bad off.
It was a wake-up call for me, that’s for sure, and I’ve been hitting my stationary bike and weights very regularly since. Besides the health risks, there’s the simple fact that I’ve been telling myself all along I wasn’t that bad, when in fact I was, and knew it, and wouldn’t admit it.

The problem, I think, with honesty, is that it means you have to take responsibility. Owning up to being fat wasn’t easy for me, and still isn’t. I still want to tell myself that I’m not that bad off, that it’s just my belly hanging out more than it should.

But if I really want to see how out of shape I’ve let myself become, all I have to do is remember what I was like when I went in the Army. Granted, at almost fifty years old, none of us is what we were at eighteen. But I stood the same height I do now and weighed 170 pounds. Where now I weigh over 300.

It’s horrible, is what it is. And I have to face up to that and do something about it. And I am. Probably not enough, and I really need to make more money in order to do it. The sad fact of the matter is it costs more to eat healthy, and that’s no lie. If you think it is, next time you’re in a store, compare the price of a Snickers to the price of a health food bar. Generally speaking, the healthy alternative is well over a dollar higher.
But I’m sure there are things I can do even within my meager budget (and believe me, it’s very meager indeed). I just need to research them. Somehow.

I don’t claim a perfect record here, but I at least try to be honest with everyone. And when you do that, you really see how people don’t want honesty as much as they claim. I’ve had people get mad at me and not talk to me because I was honest with them about something. One individual unfriended me on FB because I got tired of him trying to make me drink the Kool-Aid of his particular brand of political belief—which he claimed was true conservative but was a far cry from it—and told him he’d never win me over and he should stop trying. No great loss, really. I also had someone comment on this very blog, saying I’d screwed up in my post on internet illiteracy by using the word than when I should have used then. I admitted to the mistake, but that wasn’t good enough. This person stated there’s no way you can make a typo like that because the a is nowhere near the e on the keyboard. I replied that I never claimed to make a typo, but a mistake that I missed on proofreading, and then went on to tell this person that if he (or she; they commented under a username rather than their real name) didn’t believe me or like my answer, that was his problem.

No answer to that.

But I like to live my life by what I believe Mark Twain said: if you always tell the truth, you never have to remember anything.

I can’t help it if people don’t like honesty. I have no answer to the dilemma.

But honestly? I’d like more honesty if you’re dealing with me. And I promise not to unfriend you for it.

Later,
Gil

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The Return

Yeah, I know, it’s been a while. To be honest, I’ve been dealing with some stuff. Some of it I’m still dealing with, but other things are off the board for now.

First off, there’s my new CPAP machine. That has taken some serious getting used to. You try learning to sleep with what amounts to a fighter pilot’s mask on your face and see how well you do. On top of that, there’s the hose that connects the thing to the machine. I learned one valuable lesson after a night away from home: use a firm pillow. I have a bad habit of using a pillow till it’s not much thicker than a notebook, and that was causing problems with the mask. Then I had to spend a night in Branson and the quarterly Ozark Writer’s Conference and learned that a thick, firm pillow keeps the mask from trying to come off my face all the time. So on the trip back, I stopped by Walmart and bought a cheap pillow (cheap things are all I can afford).

Anyway, learning to sleep with that thing has made me tired and cut down on most of my writing activities, including this blog. I haven’t added as much to my WIP, either. About the only things I’ve made significant progress on are the two novels I’ve been editing for Oghma, and I just finished those up (well, first round on one of them, anyway, the other is done, for the most part), and that’s freed me up to make a blog post. I’ll get back in the swing of things, it’s just gonna take some time.

Another problem I’ve had with this blog is that I’ve tried a new technique that’s not really working out. If you’ve paid attention, you’ll notice I was trying to do three posts a week. This was because it was recommended in a book I read about blogging and using your writer’s platform. The idea being, if you post more, you’ll attract more traffic. So I decided to try it out. Problem is, it doesn’t really work very well for me. I have trouble coming up with good topics that often, so I think the quality of the posts—which weren’t the best in the world to being with, in my opinion—were suffering.

Coming up with topics that stick with a certain formula hasn’t been working very well for me for a long time now, so things are gonna change in that department. I’m not sure just how yet. Some of my posts may be a bit more personal, others might delve more into the history of crime (something I’ve intended to do for some time now), and others yet might…well, who knows? This blog was started to talk about writing and my experiences as an author. But, for me, that actually covers a wide range. And it seems I’ve gotten the most hits from my historical posts, too, which hold a lot of interest for me.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now, and you’ll likely see some changes in the future. They’ll likely seem minor in some ways, but they’ll be good for me because I’ll be talking about things that truly interest me, which should make the quality of the posts go up (fingers crossed).

Later,
Gil

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The Convert’s Song

converts songSebastian Rotella has returned with The Convert’s Song, the sequel to Triple Crossing, and it’s a worthy successor. Where Triple Crossing felt more like a crime novel, The Convert’s Song definitely steps over the line into an international thriller.

Valentine Pescatore, the hero of the first novel, is living in Buenos Aires and working as an investigator for a man named Facundo Bassat, who runs an agency that works out of the triple border area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. As the novel opens, he’s helping a Miami doctor whose son was killed by a business partner get justice. They will visit a judge Facundo knows and offer him forty thousand dollars to keep the suspect in jail. It’s an attempt to top the suspected thirty thousand dollars the other side has offered to stall the investigation and let the suspect go free. That’s just the way business is done in Buenos Aires.

After completion of the deal, Pescatore escorts the man back to the airport for his return flight to Miami. As the doctor makes it through the checkpoint, a hand falls on Pescatore’s shoulder. It turns out to be his old friend Raymond, who we met in the prologue.

The last time Pescatore saw Raymond was some ten years earlier, when he accompanied Raymond to a drug deal as security. But when Raymond reveals he plans to double-cross the dealer, Pescatore leaves. Raymond shoots the dealer and is later arrested with the drugs and the money.

Now, Raymond claims he’s changed. He’s married, has a couple of boys. He got out of the drug bust by becoming an informant and giving up everyone he knew. And, it turns out he’s a converted Muslim. He’s a businessman, has some investments in the Middle East and Europe.

But a couple times during the reunion, Raymond’s phone rings. The first time, he ignores it. The second time, he answers, and it’s plain he’s talking to a woman. A few triple-frontier-brazil-argentina-paraguay-tripointmoments after he hangs up, she texts him, which he also blows off.

For a week after the meeting, Pescatore isn’t sure what to think of the encounter. In some ways, Raymond seems changed. In others, he’s the same old trouble maker.

Then, there’s a terrorist attack at a local mall. Pescatore’s boss has a heart attack while responding in the attack. The next morning, police kick Pescatore’s door down, claiming he’d participated in the attack, that the terrorists had called him. He has no idea what they’re talking about, of course, until he realizes the call was made to a cell phone he rarely uses. It’s the number he gave his old buddy Raymond when reluctant to give him his working number.

Calls are made and the FBI bails him out. This starts a long chase, first into Argentina, then France, then Iraq, where it becomes more and more evident Raymond isn’t at all what he presented himself as being. In fact, he’s worse than he was when Pescatore knew him a decade earlier.

triple crossingThe Convert’s Song is definitely a worthy follow-up to Triple Crossing, and I’m very curious to see where Sebastian Rotella will take Valentine Pescatore next. If you like international plots intertwined with terrorism and varied, exotic settings, this is a book for you.

Later,
Gil

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M*A*S*H

M-A-S-H_TV_title_screenRemember M*A*S*H? I do. I’m working my way through the first season right now.

I discovered the show when I was in the Army. I’d heard of it before that, but had the impression it was some kind of soap opera-type show. I’m not sure where I got that impression, but it was there. But then I found it on syndication and was instantly hooked. I owned a VHS of the original movie, as well as the final movie, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, which I watched several times.

To be honest, the original movie doesn’t do a lot of me, as much as I hate to say it. And I think it’s because I first got acquainted with it as a television series, so I’m used to the Alan Alda version of Hawkeye Pierce. The movie is okay, but the series has a different feel to it, and Donald Sutherland plays Pierce as a totally different character.

I used to own about six seasons of the show, but hit a hard spot financially and sold them. Now Walmart has the first two seasons and they’re only ten bucks, so I decided it was time to start building my collection up again. In my mind, it’s one of the best shows ever on TV.

The pilot episode feels like most pilots do, like they’re trying to find their way around what they want to do with the show. And there are characters in the first season that slowly fall by the wayside as the show progresses. But overall, by the fourth episode (“Chief Surgeon Who?”), the series started hitting its stride.

One of the things I’ve always admired about M*A*S*H was its integrity. It was still popular when they decided to call it quits, and I respect that. I used to have a book called MV5BMTQ3OTM1NjM5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTI5NDY0MQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_The Last Days of M*A*S*H, and it was written by Alan Alda. In it, he states that the chief reason they decided to end the series was they were having more and more trouble coming up with good ideas. After eleven seasons, they’d explored pretty much every situation they could, and if they kept going, the show would become a weak shadow of itself. Better to get out while it was still good and leave the fans with fond memories than run the thing into the ground and be remembered for ruining a good show.

There are shows these days that could stand to learn that lesson.

Actually, there are shows these days that could stand to be cancelled before the end of the first season, but that’s beside the point.

Like old movies, many old TV series don’t stand the test of time. For me, one of those is The Dukes of Hazzard. I loved that show when I was a kid, and I understand it’s still very popular in syndication, but the last time I tried watching an episode, I came away wondering what I’d seen it. I finally decided it was Catherine Bach (who played Daisy Duke) and the General Lee. I still love a ’69 Dodge Charger, and if I ever get rich, I’m gonna own one. It won’t be a General Lee, but that’s just fine with me.

M*A*S*H holds up very well, in my opinion. Yes, some of the humor is a bit lowbrow, but that’s the way it was written. Overall, the show is intelligent, even if the cast members get away with things that us veterans know they’d never get away with. No matter how brilliant they were in the operating room. The Army really wouldn’t care about that, I don’t think. Especially in the 1950s.

gty_mash_cast_jef_130214_wmainSo if you’re tired of what’s on TV these days, or just want to rediscover a great old series, I suggest running out and getting a season of M*A*S*H. I think you’ll enjoy it, especially for the price.

Later,
Gil

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Bragging Rights

I have to brag on my daughter a little. Will you indulge me that?

She got into a program recently that teaches you to build websites. They start out teaching you how to do it by hand—hard coding, in other words, rather than using a WYSIWYG editor. This is good because using an editor such as Dreamweaver, while it streamlines building a site, also removes some of the flexibility and control you have. I’m not so much putting down programs like Dreamweaver—I’ve used it and Studio Expression, and they’re good for what they’re made for—as pointing out their limitations. Yes, they allow people who otherwise know nothing of writing code to build their own sites, but they also remove a lot of the customization from those sites. Though I have to say Dreamweaver is better at this than most.

Regardless, Jas is learning HTML5 and CSS3—the latest basic coding languages—and she’ll finish up the course by building a site using WordPress—a very popular platform these days.

I got a text with pictures a couple of days ago showing me the site she’d built. Evidently, they had a choice of how to do it, and out of eight students, she chose to build one completely from scratch, and this is what she did.V__4C46

Now, I know how to build sites by hand using code. And while this site she built is a simpler one, it’s still a beautiful site. Its simplicity is its beauty, because that leaves it clean and uncluttered. A very nice look. She has a couple of images there, and she’s using stand-in text in place of real content, but she still had to position that text and put it in paragraphs.

I’m damn proud of what she did here.

For those of you who don’t have experience, every element on a site has to have code written for it, no matter how small or insignificant that element might look visually. example-css-form-563x358And when you get into things like forms and capturing email addresses, now you’re into jQuery, JavaScript, and PHP, and things are getting complicated. Jas’s site doesn’t have that, but in the real world, it might well do so, since it’s a site for a consulting firm. At the very least, I’d advise them to have a Contact page, with a form for doing so.

But keep in mind that Jas is only in Week 4 of her classes, with six weeks left to go yet. And she’s doing better than the rest of the class from what I’ve seen. They actually had to stop last week and go through the basics of using a computer—and this after potential participants had to go through an interview process before being chosen. At the end, they have the possibility of placement in paid internship positions, as well as being able to keep the laptop they’re issued in the class. It seems to me you’d better know your way around a computer if you’re going to take a class like that, but evidently some folks slipped in somehow.

Anyway, I’m proud of my daughter for her creativity and motivation. It’s something I can have in common with her, and at this rate, she’ll be teaching me things (I don’t know how to build a site using WordPress).

Way to go, kiddo!

Later,
Gil

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Post 9/11

9-11-memorialI’m not sure why this didn’t occur to me before, but the other day I realized there are a lot of kids out there for whom 9/11 is just a historical event.

Okay, so I’m slow about some things. I’ve stated that before.

I guess for me, it’s the fact it so dominated and changed my way of thinking that it never dawned on me there’d be some folks who didn’t see it that way. I lived through it—like a lot of people reading this blog, I’m sure—so it’s imprinted in my mind till the day I die, I’m sure.

Take, for instance, my boys. They’re sixteen and fourteen. So one of them wasn’t even born when it happened, while the other was a little over a year old. You think the disaster at the World Trade Center meant anything to him at the time? He was far too young to understand what was happening.

I guess it’s a little dumbfounding to me. And I’m sure members of the Greatest Generation felt the same way about those born after Pearl Harbor and World War II. I came along almost a quarter century after Pearl Harbor, so for me it’s a historic event, though I have to say, having seen pictures, it amazes me anyone survived. And seeing videos of Pearl Harbor survivors going back is moving indeed for me.

But, for the most part, I’m emotionally disconnected from it.

Another thing that, for me, makes 9/11 different is this: After Pearl Harbor, we had a definite enemy in the Japanese Empire. And we managed to extend that to Nazi Germany. I’m not at all belittling the sacrifices made during those years. We lost more men in some single engagements of that war than in all the wars we’ve fought in the71381-004-534732C4 Middle East combined. It was hard. It was heartbreaking. They deserve the moniker The Greatest Generation, and I’d never even remotely suggest taking it away.

But the advantage they had, in the long run, was they were fighting an enemy that at least had the guts and integrity to put on a uniform. The perpetrators of 9/11 and their ilk will do no such thing. They hide among their fellows, scream about death to the West, and then scurry into their holes in ways that no self-respecting rat would. We’ve now spent almost fourteen years fighting these people and, thanks to such bonehead moves as announcing when we’ll leave a certain country (image FDR saying, “We’ll leave Germany in September of 1944”) and kowtowing to the enemy as our current leader does, we’ll likely be fighting them a lot longer.

Part of it is their nature. We fought armies in World War II. There were skirmishes, battles, campaigns. When the enemy retreated, we knew where he retreated to. When he advanced, we could see him coming.

But the other part is what’s going on here. During the 1940s, America was united in its efforts to back our troops. Despite sad news delivered to hundreds of towns big and small around this country on a daily basis, there weren’t loud voices clamoring for our government to bring our soldiers home. Yes, we wanted them home. But not before the enemy—the threat to liberty that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan presented—was beaten. There was rationing of resources, drives for war bonds, and people turned out in droves when some hero from the war came to town.

What do we have today? Idiots like Michael Moore criticizing snipers while escorted by an armed guard. Presidents who play golf while men are dying in the hot sand. FDR ddaydidn’t play golf. He talked with Churchill and they devised Operation Overlord and drove the Germans out of France—at the expense of hundreds of thousands of men. And when they thought the war would be over by winter of 1944 and it turned out the Germans fought back—in an action now known as the Battle of the Bulge—they didn’t give up. They didn’t say, “There’ll be no boots on the ground.”

They fought. They kept our troops over there. And, despite poor logistics planning that left many of them without proper cold weather gear in a winter that was the coldest in many years, our soldiers fought on, battling frostbite and malnutrition as much as they did the Germans. And in the Pacific, the Marines went from tropical island to tropical island, fighting malaria and jungle rot as well as highly dedicated Japanese soldiers who made our boys pay dearly for every single inch gained.

Why did the Germans and Japanese fight so hard? They had a homeland to protect, just as we did. They didn’t hide among innocent civilians.

And now Japan and Germany are two of our greatest allies. This won’t happen with countries like Iran and Syria. We have more in common with a culture as foreign to ours as Japan’s is than we do with these people in the deserts of the Middle East.

What’s more, the Greatest Generation didn’t let the Baby Boomers forget. They reminded them of the cost of liberty and freedom. I’m afraid the Millennials—and even many of those of us who lived through 9/11—are in danger of forgetting what happened that pleasant summer day in 2001. We are a nation so divided—and we’ve let the firefighter9-11imagenational political parties and the media split us this way—that we maintained our united front against radical Islam for all of maybe two years, tops, and that’s probably being very generous.

I don’t know of a solution. At least, not one anyone will implement. So I’m not offering anything of the sort, not saying, “Here’s the way out.”
Too many people will disagree with me and say we’re not in anything to begin with anyway.

Later,
Gil

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Boring Horror Movies

evil dead remakeI don’t get it. I haven’t seen a good horror movie in years. And it’s not for lack of trying. Is it just me? Have I become so old and jaded that the creepy stuff doesn’t do anything for me anymore? Or have the movies simply become that bad?

I suppose I should give an example.

I recently watched the re-make of Evil Dead. Now, I want to say at the outset that I’d put off watching this re-make because I’d watched the original back in the eighties…and didn’t care much for it then, either. So, if I didn’t care for the original (so-called) classic, why in the world would I want to watch a re-make of it?

Don’t get me wrong. This thing was well-made. God knows I’ve seen some really horribly made horror movies over the years. Hell Night always comes immediately to mind. It’s an old Linda Blair movie, and there’s a scene where you see the boom mic at the top of the frame as plain as day. Was the editor asleep at the wheel? Or did they really say, “Ah, we don’t have to money to re-shoot that scene. Just leave it in. They’ll never notice it.”

I bet you haven’t even heard of that movie, have you? Well, now you know why.

As for this new Evil Dead, the acting was good, the production values were spot on, the effects very believable. Unfortunately, as all the blood and demon voices and gore and heroic last-ditch action was going on, I spent the entire movie asking myself, “Why do I care?”

Okay, they had a decent premise. Group of friends are in the cabin in the woods (the movie of that name actually made me sit up and take notice because of its premise; ifhell night you haven’t seen it, go get it) for a logical reason: one of them is a drug addict and they want to clean her up. She doesn’t seem quite as willing to clean up as they are to clean her up, but that’s life. Makes it bit more believable.

It also helps me believe she’d be the one most receptive to being possessed by a demon bent on destruction. Going through the throes of withdrawal would tend to make one weak to outside influences.

But despite all this, I just couldn’t drum up any sympathy for all these people. Maybe it’s that they’re so young and I don’t really relate to that anymore. I’d hate to think that was the case. Or maybe it’s just that I can’t put much credence to their supernatural troubles. Or maybe the writers gave a couple of the characters—the drug addict and her brother especially—a few too many flaws and brought me to the point of, “Hey, give in and die already.”

And yet, I kept watching it, just to see how it turned out. Would everybody die? Well, I guess you could say I had a professional interest—as a writer—in seeing how it all turned out. But I spent pretty much the entire movie impatiently waiting for it to end. I thought about fast-fowarding through it a couple of times, but I didn’t want to miss any possible nuances.

Of course, I needn’t have worried.

In the end, I think it’s probably a combination of the reasons I mentioned at the beginning of this post: I’m old and jaded and the movies aren’t as good. Especially the ones that rely on supernatural elements of possession and such. For reasons I won’t go into here, I have trouble putting stock into that kind of stuff being a major worry, so feeling sympathy for characters who get caught up in it is hard for me.

Fangoria322And, probably, I’ve just watched far too many of those kinds of movies by now. They have nothing left to offer me. I see all the similarities in them, the shared elements that have been repeated so many times I’ve lost count.

So if you like these kinds of movies—and seeing as how you can still pick up magazines like Fangoria there have to be a lot of people who do still like them—don’t take offense. I’m not denigrating you for liking them. Be warned, though, that you might reach the same jaded place in life that I am, and you’ll have to find something new to love.

Like, maybe, writing stories of your own. Play it right, you might be the next Stephen King.

Later,
Gil

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