Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author and Journalist Ray Van Horn, Jr.

For this week we’re going “old school” with classic video/arcade games, lightsabers of choice, vinyl record-spinning (backwards, of course)…and orange creamsicles!

Better hurry up and read this interview with Ray Van Horn Jr., because I just heard the ice cream truck!

 

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Willow Croft: If you were stuck with only one arcade game or video/computer game from the 1970s/80s, which would you pick, and why?

Ray Van Horn Jr.: In the ‘70s, video games were still fledgling experiments before the big boom in the 1980s. As a young ‘un, the rage was Pong, as in the electronic ping-pong game with head-to-head, block-shaped “paddles” and a square blip representing a ball. Same concept, get the blip past the other player for a point. Your family was considered an up-and-comer in the social strata if you had one then. My family wasn’t up-and-coming nor poor, and we had a Pong console, which we entertained people with at social gatherings in our home. Sounds crazy, but it’s true! We were much easier occupied than today’s generation. We also read books, spun vinyl records you had to take the time and energy to flip over and we went outdoors to play instead of an Xbox portal, just saying.

Pong was played with a console that hooked up to the t.v. and mind you, this was the age of floor cabinet tube televisions or medium-sized shelf or stand models. It was still an era of black and white picture televisions, as color models weren’t always a given in each household. I won’t bore you to tears over the rabbit ear picture control antennae mounted on top the t.v.s, but anyone who lived it won’t forget it. Younger generations would be astounded by the primitiveness of it all, though there’s been a newfound fascination of our archaic ways courtesy of Stranger Things.

While there was an early-on version of the Atari 2600 gaming console in 1977, it really blew up in 1982 once arcades became a huge thing. Arcades were a way of life and if they were worth a hoot, they were decked in neon piping and low-lit from above, so the machines could bask with the neon like Space Port and Space Station in my area. In other words, like Tron brought to life. Back then, you’d pay a quarter a play for an arcade machine, and adjusting for the times, we had miniscule (by comparison to today) allowances, i.e. a dollar or two. You found a game you could get really good at in order to make that quarter last, since most of the time, our parents dropped us off in an arcade while they shopped elsewhere. Otherwise, an arcade was tween and teen social hour.

Then you had to deal with the “quarters up” syndrome, which also applies to billiards play, as in someone claiming dibs on your machine. If you were really good, people would gather around you to cheer you on, but also to plant their quarter down on the edge of the video game screen to bid for rights to next play. That being said, the three arcade games I ruled at then and still shred today in retro arcades which we go to, are Ms. Pac Man, Galaga and Mat Mania.

Willow Croft: Imagine you were in a “galaxy far, far away” and were surrounded by a small force of the Empire’s minions, what would be your weapon of choice, if any?

Ray Van Horn Jr.: I’m old school, and nothing beats the original trilogy, yet Count Dooku’s lightsaber from the prequel set with its arched hilt where you can look gallant planting a forefinger before the saber projection…it’s just boss, man. For combat logistics, the configuration of that curved hilt sounds absurd, but Christopher Lee sold his regal saber hold as he did any project he appeared in. I have complete reverence for Lee as an icon of Hammer horror films, Saruman from Lord of the Rings and his other film works. The man even recorded a heavy metal album before he passed. Legend!

Now, any Star Wars geek like myself is going to cry foul at my choice, since Dooku was not only a Sith also known as Darth Tyranus, but he spearheaded the Trade Federation’s coup of Naboo, fostering Palpatine’s subversive hijack of the old Republic en route to the new Empire, of which you propose. My purposeful shenanigans here are predicated on the presumption I’d learned the Force and snagged Dooku’s saber for Imperial credits on the Old Republic dollar, using a Jedi mind trick against a drunken Rodian junk dealer hocking it on some backwater planet generations later.

Willow Croft: Let’s talk about food “less travelled”! It’s a three-parter, so take your pick, or answer all of them (sadly, no bonus prize, though)! What tasty treat to you remember from your own summer camp adventures as a kid? Alternatively, what’s your favourite trail snack(s), or what’s your go-to camping cuisine recipe?

Ray Van Horn Jr.: I never really went to summer camps, or a sleepaway camp (outside of those zany horror movies of the same name, ha!), but I went to plenty of swimming and nature day camps as a kid. What sticks out the most in my mind are the orange creamsicles we were gonzo about. Good Humor used to have an orange, gelatinous glob crammed inside a cardboard tube called a Push-Up, which many of us kids of the day of loved.

Favorite trail snacks, since we do a lot of hiking: bananas, kiwi or a nut mix filled with cashews, peanuts, dates, raisins, coconut shavings, M&Ms, almonds and such. When I do solo hikes, I likewise have these on-hand or a bag of Craisins. A turkey sandwich on wheat with stone ground mustard for the long haul hikes.

Willow Croft: A visitor from the future has loaned you their time travel machine and unlimited credit for a one-time shopping trip to the original Hunt Valley Mall you write about on your blog (https://roadslessertraveled.com/2022/03/21/why-i-miss-the-original-hunt-valley-mall/). What store do you head for first, and what would you buy?

Ray Van Horn Jr.: First, I would toss my benefactor a gnarly hang-loose sign with my thumb and forefinger shaking about by way of thanks. With a shout of “Mega rad!” I’d aim right for Camelot Music to scout for the newest heavy metal cassettes of whatever day I landed in. I’d save some of my cash for a drop into Big Sky, which had cool jeans at a reasonable price (even for a mall), then look for my friends at the food court for pizza, then, of course, a raid at the arcade. Assuming I hadn’t overspent, I would dip into Friendly’s for a mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae!

Willow Croft: Speaking of fictional time travel, how would you envision the world in about 50 or even 100 years?

Ray Van Horn Jr.: I’m very concerned about the ongoing rape and careless abuse of our planet. I think the garish dystopia of Blade Runner 2049 is alarmingly on the money of where we’re headed if we don’t pay attention to Mother Gaia’s rising ire and subversive plea to get our selfish, polluting heads jerked out of our bums. I believe our natural resources stand to dwindle with exponential population growth and lackadaisical care in restocking and cleaning after what we reap. Replanting is key if we want our atmosphere to provide for us. Some people tend to think sectors of heavily forested areas means we have nothing to worry about. This is blind arrogance. I foresee more synthetic agriculture and animal cloning as time progresses, species die out and humans are forced to subsist on whatever science can give them, instead of nature. A world with ashy, burnt skies awaits us, ushered by wars and human negligence. Gaia provides all which we need; we need to treat her with far more respect.

I think modern society has become far too dependent on technology and I try not to worry about my son and his generation, who can’t go a single day (much less 15 minutes) without a glowing gadget within reach. Then again, people of all ages are glued to a device more than they set their eyes free to behold the beauty of their live habitats. My fiancée always posits the solar flare theory, which could wipe out the collective motherboard worldwide, shutting electronics down and forcing us back to the primitive. If we’re one day out of fossil fuels, oil, herbs, potable water and what we need to engineer horticulture, we’re done for on this planet. Less time inside the virtual, people, seriously.

I hope we evolve as futuristic society, learning from past mistakes and embracing our differences. I doubt I will see it in my lifetime, but I dream of a purge of bigotry, racism, homophobia and religious persecution. Those folks who can’t get with the program can leave the Earth and cultivate Planet Hate, as far I’m concerned. A lack of empathy is what mankind today suffers the greatest from, and if that doesn’t change, expect a barbaric purge more in tune with the murder spree movies of the same name. I hate getting on my high horse in such a fashion, but people have to want change, embrace diversity and treat our planet and its thousands of species like the gift it is if we’re ever going to survive your timeline.

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I hope you enjoyed this interview with Ray Van Horn, Jr. but if you’d like to learn more about this author/journalist and his adventures with icons of heavy metal, punk, and more, visit him at his website: https://roadslessertraveled.com/ and check out his collection of short stories here: https://www.amazon.com/Coming-Rage-Ray-Van…/dp/B0B7QPFYJ1.

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Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author S. Alessandro Martinez

Flying in on bat wings is this week’s Five Things Friday interviewee, horror and fantasy author S. Alessandro Martinez.

Willow Croft: If you could be any species of bat, which one would you choose, and why?

S. Alessandro Martinez: I love bats! My favorite animal. If I were going to be a bat, I’d either choose a vampire bat, for obvious reasons. Or a Livingstone’s fruit bat, which are adorable, fluffy, and have awesome-looking eyes.

Willow Croft: What with the pandemic, I definitely missed playing board games at the local comic book shop. (I’m still irked with myself for not being able to make it to your Helminth escape room challenge event!) So, what’s your favourite board game, and do board games and/or video games ever inspire your writing?

S. Alessandro Martinez: Our Helminth live online escape room was a ton of fun to put on, but also a ton of work. I’m still glad we did it, though. My favorite board game of all time would be Arkham Horror (2nd Edition). Most people who know me know I’m a huge Lovecraft fan. I have many Lovecraftian board games, but Arkham Horror will always be number one. As for whether they inspire my writing? Definitely. A novel I’m working on at the moment was inspired by a tabletop role-playing game campaign I wrote a few years ago. I enjoyed the story I came up with, and decided to turn it into a novel.

Willow Croft: Helminth got pretty gruesome at times (not that I minded, of course!), so, in real life, what’s the most gruesome thing you’ve ever eaten (or strangest recipe you prepared)?

S. Alessandro Martinez: I don’t know about “gruesome”, but I’ve eaten plenty of things that would be considered weird to Americans like me. For example, I’ve had blood pudding and blood sausage, both good. Sea urchin, which I would not recommend ever. Whale, it was okay. Horse is one of the most delicious meats I’ve ever had. In Iceland I had hákarl, which is Greenland shark that has been fermented and hung to dry for about five months. I probably wouldn’t eat that again, but I would recommend experiencing it.

Willow Croft: As a horror and fantasy writer, your imagination must take you to some spooky, and wonderful, fictional places. In real life, though, what’s the most fantastical/frightening thing that’s happened to you?

S. Alessandro Martinez: When my wife and I visited Canada, we decided to go on a caving tour. During the tour, I somehow ended up in front of everyone as we were crawling through these narrow passageways. From the rear of the group, the guide sent up instructions to go down a certain passage. So I attached myself onto the safety line and went down that way. Well, what we found out later was that the guide had said “DON’T go down that way.” But the message had altered on its way down to me. Turns out the safety line I had attached to wasn’t connected to anything on the other end and there was a pretty significant drop right below where I had gotten to. Thankfully, only my wife and I had gone down before the guide realized what happened. We had to wait for the guide to come and lead us out a safer way.

As for fantastical, when the wife and I were in New Zealand, we got to see many Lord of the Rings filming locations, climb to the top of Edoras, and have a hobbit feast at the Green Dragon. We also went caving (again) to see the glowworms. That was amazing sight! And when we were in Iceland, my wife and I got to swim in a stream that had been recently created through volcanic activity and was being naturally heated. This was a practically a private spot in the middle of nowhere that a guide had taken us to. A truly amazing experience.

Willow Croft: And, lastly, if you could travel to any (presumably) cursed or haunted location in the world for an overnight stay, where would you choose?

S. Alessandro Martinez: It’s a dream of mine to visit Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) one day. Who wouldn’t, right? I’ve also been wanting to visit the Waverley Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky. That seems like a super creepy place I’d love to explore. I would happily spend a night at either of these locations. Or maybe several nights when it comes to Bran Castle.

Take a dark draught with S. Alessandro Martinez over at his blog: https://salessandromartinez.com/.

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author (and Dragon!) Nenekiri Bookwyrm

This week’s “Five Things Friday” interviewee/dragon is Nenekiri Bookwyrm!

Willow Croft: What’s the best convention you’ve attended? And what’s the oddest, fantastical, and/or wonderful thing that’s happened to you at a convention?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: One of the best was Anthrocon 2018 for sure. I was only able to go for Saturday the previous year and in 2018 I was able to go for the full convention. It was also the first time I had been published and the feeling of getting to see my name in the contributors to the con book was something magical. It made my entire weekend and the con had just started.

I’ve had a lot of adventures in my many con trips, but this story from my first ever convention is still one of my favorites to tell. I had never been to a convention before but went with my group of friends to Magfest 2016. We had just gotten to the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center after checking into our hotel rooms and thought it would be a good idea to get something to eat. The problem was that we didn’t know the area very well. So after wandering around the streets just outside of the convention center, and nearly getting lost looking for a restaurant, we settled for Subway. We grabbed our sandwiches and headed back to find a place to eat them. We decided on sitting around the fountain that was set up next to the entrance on the lower level of the building. It was around supper when we sat down to eat our meal, close to 6PM but not quite. Everyone was glad to be off their feet for a while and the conversation was light and jovial.

Then the clock struck 6PM. And the music swelled behind us.

Instantly, we were all showered with water as the fountain came to life and started performing a laser light show while alternating spraying water from different fountain jets. There was screaming, laughing, and a good deal of soggy bread as we rushed to get out of the way of the musical water works. I tried to cover a friend with an outstretched wing, but the water just splashed off and into their face. We found out later that apparently the fountain turns on and does a show at set times in the day. It certainly made for an unforgettable start to my first convention!

Willow Croft: There’s a saying that dragons like their snacks “crunchy, with ketchup”, so–what’s your favourite snack, with or without ketchup?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: I’ve been eating a lot of Cheez-its lately. Or really any kind of cheese cracker. I like the crunch (without ketchup) and it reminds me to drink more water to offset all the salt I’m eating. Some folks have a sweet tooth, but I’ve always had a salt fang.

Willow Croft: When you need a break from all the game-designing, salt-laden snack munching, and writing, where do you and your other dragon friends like to go for vacation?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: Conventions are usually where I go to meet up with my other dragon friends, but outside of that I’ll sometimes take a trip to Pittsburgh to visit a long time friend and his fiancé. The last time my roommate and I were out that way they took us on a tour of the city that was lovely. We toured the Phipps Conservatory, rode the incline all the way to the top of the city at night, and walked around a college that looked like an old castle had sprung up in the middle of the city. There’s still a bunch of places I’d love to visit for the next time we get a chance to go out that way.

Willow Croft: Now that you’ve finally taken a vacation, what game (board game or video game) do you bring along while you’re “sunning your scales”?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: Magic the Gathering is a game that a lot of my friends play, so I usually have a deck for that packed in my suitcase somewhere. Since it’s been around so long there’s a lot of different formats and play styles to choose from. I usually play a format called Commander with a deck that runs five different colors of dragons. It’s chaotic and silly and getting to see all the different color cards make a kaleidoscopic rainbow as I play them is a good deal of fun. And the idea of having a spellbook that you curate yourself over time, adding or subtracting pieces as you learn and grow is one that is very interesting to me.

Due to the portability of the Nintendo Switch, I’ll occasionally bring that on trips where I think I’ll have the time to play it. The game I play on it varies, but right now I’m snout deep in Monster Hunter. It has a very satisfying loop of fight big monsters->make snazzy new pants for outfit->repeat, that’s hooked me over the last few months.

Willow Croft: What’s your favourite song that you like to strum on your ukulele, and why?

Nenekiri Bookwyrm: I’m still a beginner when it comes to playing songs since for a long while I would just strum the ukulele idly as a way to relax. But recently I’ve been learning the basic chords and decided to start practicing One Big Bed from Not Another D&D Podcast. I’ve not heard the podcast itself, the song was a recommended video for me on Youtube based on my interests in tabletop. But as soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to learn how to play it. There’s a gentleness to it that really spoke to me. Like a song you would sing to someone after a hard day as they fell asleep. The lyrics are a little silly but I find it has a nice balance of schmaltz to offset the message that rest is an important part of the adventure too. The chord progression isn’t too difficult as well, which gives me an excuse to practice switching my claws into the next note without too much trouble.

Nenekiri Bookwyrm would love to meet you! Visit their blog at https://www.nenekiri.com or on Twitter https://twitter.com/Nenekiri_Dragon

And, Nenekiri Bookwyrm would like to remind you all to “curl up with a good book and be kind to yourself”. 

The wisdom of dragons, right?