Eulogizing the Past and Future

If you go to downtown Paxton, IL, you’ll notice a small white-faced building next to the quaint City Hall, right across from the larger of the two Casey’s General Stores that share Market Street.

In the left-hand window, a homemade sign identifies that half of the building as PAST & FUTURE BOOKS AND COLLECTIBLES, with a caricature of Abraham Lincoln opposite a bendy-armed grey alien. Below, next to the “Come in, we’re OPEN” sign, stands a carved wooden figure of a white-bearded, yellow-clad fisherman. The fisherman seems to be keeping watch, maintaining a patient, silent vigil. Perhaps he waits for you.

Open the slightly rickety door (careful; it sticks a bit), and you’ll find a small room of long folding tables arranged in loose aisles, each one piled above and below with hundreds and hundreds of books. Some are in open boxes, most are loosely stacked; paper labels identify one table as SCIENCE FICTION, another as FANTASY, another as HORROR, another MYSTERY, and so on. At the far end, a humble bearded figure sits behind a card table with a cashbox, flanked by little glass cases full of rare coins and stamps. He is the carved fisherman made flesh, bundled in a long-sleeved shirt and a fleece vest or jacket, perhaps with a bucket hat pulled down over his forehead. At first glance he might appear to be napping, but he is awake, a kindly old dragon hunched amidst his treasure horde.

His name is Chuck.

I’ve known Chuck more than half my life. I first met him, in a manner very much like I’ve described above, during the emotional whirlwind of my parents’ divorce. My dad was renting an apartment across the street from Paxton’s historic Majestic Theater, which after several years of disuse had begun to take on an abandoned, haunted look. Past & Future shared space with the theater back then, just a few buildings down from its current location (the sign was different: Abe and the alien were arm-wrestling, and the latter was less Roswell grey and more Little Green Man, complete with pointy ears and antennae). I was a melancholy teenage bookworm, a couple years shy of driving and looking for my next escape. Dad took me over there during one of my weekend visits, and the rest is history.

Chuck and I hit it off instantly. Though not new to science fiction literature (I remember Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, and others being on Dad’s bookshelves before I was old enough to read them, and I had my own subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction by age thirteen), most of my reading up to that time had been strictly fantasy, with tentative toe-dips into horror whenever I could screw up the nerve. I had only recently begun actively seeking out more of the classics of the genre, and Chuck was eager to share his wealth of expertise. I’d already visited Herbert’s Arrakis and C. S. Lewis’s Malacandra, but through Chuck’s guidance I soon found myself fighting the black widow alongside Richard Matheson’s Shrinking Man, outwitting Fred Saberhagen’s robotic Berserkers, and exploring Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. I was already aware of Bradbury and Lovecraft, but it was Chuck who sold me my first battered copies of The Lurking Fear and Other Stories and Fahrenheit 451.

My visits to Past & Future (or just “Chuck’s” as I came to think of it) became a vital ritual, as much an escape as the stories themselves. Dad came along the first few times, often followed by a meal at Just Hamburgers, but eventually he would simply hand me a pair of twenty dollar bills and send me on my way, knowing I’d be back in an hour or two with a grocery sack full of fragrant old paperbacks. The loosely organized chaos of the tables made the hunt for something special all the more intense, though I never had to dig long before I’d have a stack of prospective purchases assembled in one corner. All the while Chuck and I would chat about our favorite authors and old movies, and he’d show me some of the more expensive rarities on offer: elegant nineteenth-century tomes alongside Depression-era pulps, many in exquisite condition.

Chuck kept a detailed hand-written catalogue of authors he’d read in a big book of graph paper, noting genres and favorite works by each. When he agreed to read an unfinished early draft of my first attempt at a novel (a pulpy sf adventure in the vein of Vance or Edgar Rice Burroughs I’d eventually finish just before high school graduation), he made a point to add my name and story to the list. He was being kind, but it was an important moment of writerly validation for me, one of the first to come from a non-relative.

Then, in November 2007, Dad texted me in study hall. The Majestic Theater was ablaze, and with it the Past & Future.

Everything burned.

Like a scene straight out of Bradbury’s nightmares, thousands of books and magazines (not to mention a vast array of rare postcards, stamps, and other memorabilia), many of them irreplaceable, were all reduced to ash in a matter of hours. It was like losing my own personal Library of Alexandria.

When I got a letter from Chuck the following summer inviting me to check out his table at the Paxton farmers’ market, I was ecstatic. It was a pale but nonetheless welcome shade of the store’s former glory: a long table in a cavernous community center, stocked with overflow from Chuck’s own private collection. He did this a few more times, and I went as often as I could manage.

In college, when I had to conduct an interview for an essay assignment, I chose Chuck as my subject and interviewed him at length about the importance and history of science fiction. Around this time, he told me he was reopening the store. I’ve been dropping in at least two or three times a year ever since. When I started selling stories in the early 2010s, I made a point to always bring him a copy of the latest magazine or anthology I was in, sometimes printing them out and stapling them in the case of digital-only publications (I always intend these as gifts, but he insists on giving me the cover price in store credit).

One thing you should know about Chuck is that he is a bit of a luddite. He has never owned a cell phone or personal computer, and still watches movies on VHS. The store has never had any online presence beyond a name and street address, and rarely carries anything more recent than the 1990s. This appropriately gives Past & Future an air of being somewhat displaced in time, which is only amplified by Chuck himself: though only in his late fifties when we met, he has always looked to me like a man in his seventies, and now that he is that old it seems he hasn’t aged a day.

When the pandemic hit, I worried. Not just that Past & Future wouldn’t survive the lockdowns, but that Chuck himself might not survive those white-knuckle pre-vaccine months. Thankfully, both remain with us as of this writing…but the store’s days are numbered.

Last Sunday, Chuck called to tell me that his landlord is raising the rent, and that he can no longer afford to stay in business. He hopes to keep the store open through the end of September, but as of this writing it seems likely that the end will come much sooner.*

“I’ve probably got just a couple of months left here,” he said, before offering to hold a 1940s Weird Tales behind the cashbox for me.

I don’t think there will be a grand reopening this time. It may be one of many small-business casualties in this inhospitable decade, but to me it’s also another nail in the coffin of my youth. I may have only visited a few times a year, but my world won’t be the same without it.

If you find yourself in or near Ford County in the next few weeks, I highly recommend stopping at Past & Future before it’s gone. I guarantee you’ll find something interesting. Posted hours are Monday, Friday, and Saturday 10am to 5pm, but Chuck told me he’d likely be in more frequently as he starts to wrap things up. It’s worth noting that he only takes cash, but if you spend at least twenty dollars you may get a Kennedy half dollar in your change.

I’ll be driving up this weekend for one last haul.

For more info on the store (including pictures!) check out this 2019 article on Paxton’s downtown shopping scene from Smile Politely.

*[UPDATE: After visiting Chuck, he confirms that he will be “out by April 1st.” If this turns out to be an elaborate April Fool’s joke, I’ll be elated.]

Dark History, the Lovecraft eZine, and more!

I probably should’ve posted about this sooner, but in late August I had my very own table at Dark History & Horror Con, Champaign County’s preeminent horror convention.

Thanks to my fiancé Shelby for helping me design the tablecloth, and our friend Adrian for the sweet coffin sign!

I sold a lot of books, spent a decent chunk of my profits on art prints and Godzilla toys, and best of all made some excellent new friends including writers John S. McFarland, Sue Rovens, and Dacre Stoker.

John is a writer I didn’t know I knew until I met him in person, but his early story “One Happy Family” appeared in A Treasury of American Horror Stories (Bonanza Books, 1985), which was a formative anthology for me as a budding pre-teen horror fan; my first conscious exposure to the prose of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, and of course McFarland himself.

When I realized he was the same John McFarland, I rushed home to retrieve my original copy, which John was gracious enough to sign for me. We also swapped story collections!

Sue Rovens and her husband Charlie were my immediate neighbors for most of the con, and we had a great time chatting and cheering each other on every time one of us made a sale. I’d recently had a guest appearance on her blog not long before the con, and it was serendipity that our tables were placed next to each other. Sue has an impressive body of work, and I urge you to check out her stuff as well as John’s.

Dacre Stoker, of course, is the bestselling great grand-nephew of Bram himself, and needs no introduction. I wasn’t able to catch his Dracula lecture, but he was very friendly (and stylish!) and I snagged a neat Bram Stoker bobblehead at his table.

If you were there, you already know how cool it was. If you weren’t, here’s the sizzle reel to let you know what you missed (and the kind of thing you can look forward to next year!):

Yes, that is me at the end doing a bad Bruce Dickinson impression. Many thanks to my pal Timothy and the rest of the gang at Absent State Productions for encouraging this behavior.

In other news, this past Sunday I appeared as a guest on The Lovecraft eZine Podcast alongside John Linwood Grant! I’ve been a loyal watcher/listener of the show for over eight years, and for most of that time it’s been a minor dream of mine to be on it one day. I still can’t quite believe that day has arrived, and I’m so thankful to Mike Davis and the rest of the eZine crew for making me feel so welcome.

Of course, my internet chose this of all days to cut out on me no fewer than twice in the same hour (and mid-sentence!), but it was a minor hiccup in an overall wonderful experience.

Finally, you may have noticed the above reference to my fiancé under that picture of me at my convention table. Well, Shelby wasn’t yet when that picture was taken, but in mid-September we did get engaged!

This has been a not-so-minor dream of mine for the past several years, and I’m ecstatic. Life can be pretty darn good, y’know?

Sometimes, with the right people, it can even be great.

Putrid Things, Letting Weirdness In, and StokerCon!

My debut collection, Every Crawling, Putrid Thing, has been out for a month now! Thanks so much to everyone who’s been buying it, reading it, talking about it, and helping me celebrate these past few weeks.

If you haven’t picked up your copy yet, consider grabbing one directly from JournalStone! If you have, please consider leaving a rating/review on your platform of choice. I’d really appreciate it!

And if Every Crawling, Putrid Thing leaves you craving more, then allow me to direct your attention to the latest release from Heads Dance Press:

Let the Weirdness In: A Tribute to Kate Bush, edited by Evan St. Jones, contains twenty-six weird stories inspired by the magic and music of Kate Bush, including my own latest, “I Keep the Lights On,” about a deeply concealed memory and a film production gone awry. I’m very proud of this one, and excited to read the work of my fellow contributors (fellow fans of small-press horror and fantasy should recognize names like Maria Abrams, Patrick Barb, Joe Koch, Sam Richard, Leo X. Robertson, Madeleine Swann, and Katie Young, just to mention a few).

Hammer Horror! Hammer Horror! Won’t leave it alone!

Finally, I just want to mention that I’ll be attending the virtual version of StokerCon this weekend, so if you’re also attending virtually, please feel free to say hi! I’ve never attended a virtual con before, but with COVID resurging again and again like the world’s most destructive slasher villain, nonessential cross-country travel struck me as too risky this time. I hope to stream some neat panels and chat with some even neater people.

There are more stories/announcements on the horizon. In the meantime, buy one or both of the books mentioned above and remember to support your favorite indie press/local bookstore!

EVERY CRAWLING, PUTRID THING now available for preorder!


“It would be accurate to say that Busboom’s fiction is a love letter to schlocky, neon horror, peppered with sticky-sweet nostalgia and loving luridity. It would, however, be a mistake to dismiss this work as merely such. There is something deeper in Busboom’s terror, rooted uncertainty. The uncertainty of being a child, of being in love, and the ever-present uncertainty inherent in the dark.

“Thoughtful horror, under the guise of gorilla monsters, looming owls and the awful things people do to each other. An outstanding collection from a phenomenal writer.” —S. L. Edwards, author of The Death of an Author and Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts

In his debut collection, David Busboom presents fifteen tales of dark fantasy and horror, populated by bizarre reptiles, occult serial killers, carnivorous protoplasms, and parasitic worms. A child faces down the giant ape destroying his parents’ marriage. A cheating husband wakes up to find his hand replaced by a mucous-covered tentacle. A Midwestern office complex becomes the setting for a ghastly, apocalyptic nightmare.

Within these pages you’ll find strange creatures sliding over dark country roads and twilit train tracks, detectives and swordsmen fighting through occult mysteries and marauding fish-men, a shunned filmmaking prodigy’s deadly magnum opus, and the seductive death of innocence. You’ll find regret, self-destruction, and relationships gone bad.

Here, where weird pulp horror meets the darker sides of love and disillusion, you’ll find slime, and stink, and Every Crawling, Putrid Thing.


Here it is at last, just in time for the Ides of March!

This is my book! It’s really happening! Just look at that creepy old man! Look at him!

This image comes to you courtesy of the uber-talented Don Noble (yes, that Don Noble). I’ve admired Don’s art for years, and ever since I had the pleasure of meeting him at StokerCon in 2019 I knew I had to work with him one day. So, of course, when asked in early 2021 who I’d like to do the cover, Don was at the top of my list. Thanks so much, man. 🙂

Every Crawling, Putrid Thing comes out April 8th from JournalStone Publishing.


One October night in 2020, I received the above fortune in my Chinese takeout. A few days later, I received the email. The kind of email that makes you sit up in bed at 6AM babbling happy swears, shaking your partner awake with the good news. Now I can finally share that news with you.

(Cue heraldic trumpets, etc.)

My first full-length story collection is coming out on April 8, 2022 from JournalStone! The title is Every Crawling, Putrid Thing, and it contains fifteen of my best horror and dark fantasy stories from the past ten years, including seven never-before-published stories. It also marks the return of my debut novella, Nightbird, the first edition of which went out of print at the end of last year.

Cover reveal and preorder info coming very soon! WATCH THIS SPACE!

This book’s got all my favorite stuff: weird creatures, strained marriages, occult murders, a swordfight or two, and at least one proper dinosaur. If you dig tales of regret, obsession, and self-destruction but are also (like me) a sucker for giant apes and marauding fish-men, you’ll find it all here. I’ve got disillusionment and dark love, carnivorous blobs and vampiric harpies, tortured families and ominous reptiles. I’ve got slime, and stink, and Every Crawling, Putrid Thing.


A Decade in Review

Last Tuesday (7/20/2021) marked exactly ten years I’ve been a published writer. My first sold story, “Weird Tales,” appeared in the fourth issue of Shock Totem on July 20th, 2011. It’s a 600-word Lovecraft pastiche that utilizes one of the subgenre’s tiredest tropes, namely the “Old Gent” himself as a central character.

What can I say, I was a teenager.

It’s not much, but it got mild praise when read aloud to my high school English class the previous year, and not only was it my first sale, it was also my first pro sale. Shock Totem no longer exists (at least not in the same form; the last issue came out in 2019 and the website is no longer active), but for a brief time (from about 2010 to 2014 or thereabouts) it was one of the most exciting horror publications around. My story shared issue No. 4 with fiction by Weston Ochse, A. C. Wise, and Rennie Sparks (of Handsome Family fame), as well as an interview with Sparks and another with the godmother of 21st century horror herself, Kathe Koja. And not only was my name on the table of contents alongside these relative giants, it was on the cover!

My name’s actually BIGGER than Kathe’s or Rennie’s!

Getting in that issue validated a dream I’d nurtured since early 2001, when I first read Brian Jacques and subsequently changed my intended adult profession from “paleontologist” to “author.” Now, twenty years after that, and about sixteen years after I started submitting my work, I’ve got one novella and a little over a dozen short stories published in various places, along with a small handful of essays, interviews, and articles.

It doesn’t seem like a whole hell of a lot, when I look at many of my similar-aged colleagues. That’s certainly the thought that runs on repeat in my head when I’m Ludovico-strapped with imposter syndrome. But it’s more than some, and in any case constantly comparing myself to others is not the healthiest way to go about writing or living.

In any case, there are at least a few accomplishments I feel truly and justifiably proud of.

I didn’t write or submit as often as I should have after that first sale, foolishly thinking I’d just opened some sort of floodgate of success I could coast from. My second story wasn’t published until 2015, but I’d like to think that gap was also due to my editorial role on the college lit journal in 2013 and 2014. And, in 2015, my third (semi-) published story, another pastiche called “The Terrible Grimoire,” was a finalist in a Lovecraftian fiction contest held by the Providence Journal. The newspaper of Lovecraft’s hometown published an abridged version (the full version was later printed in my chapbook, Nods to the Master), and I was invited to read my story in front of strangers in a strange town (which I did, and have done numerous times since in other towns). Also in 2015, my fourth story was published in Whispers from the Abyss 2 (01 Publishing, 2015), which reunited me on a ToC with A. C. Wise and put me in the new company of such awesome talents as John C. Foster, Orrin Grey, Cody Goodfellow, and contender for my Favorite Living Writer since roughly 2006, Laird Barron. The following year, I wrote a story inspired by the first season of True Detective (specifically that Handsome Family song used as the show’s theme) for an open call, and it became one of my most successful and rewarding.

Though horror is where I put down roots, I’ve branched out into other genres. In 2017 I sold a sword-and-sorcery story based on one of the very first things I ever wrote. The story was “Three Hundred Pieces” to Heroic Fantasy Short Stories (Flame Tree Publishing, 2017), and felt like a vindication of nine-year-old me. I also started writing and selling more straightforward crime fiction, having previously only written crime stories with overt horror elements.

Later that same year I sold my first novella, Nightbird (Unnerving, 2018). It was the first book with only my name on the byline, and probably my most significant . It led to my first real reviews, my first royalties, my first interviews and mentions on podcasts and various blogs. I even started appearing as a panelist at conventions, including one where I got to sit next to Stephen Graham Jones as though we were equally relevant.

In 2019, I sold what I consider my best story (“The 800-pound Gorilla in the Room”) to the Saturday Evening Post, the literary alma mater of personal gods like Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s my first published story that I would classify primarily as science fiction (another vindication; most of the rejections I received in my teens were for science fiction stories). My second science fiction story, “Ahead of Dragons,” came out in Planet Scumm in 2020, and put me on a ToC with rising star Hailey Piper.

All in all, I think it’s been a reasonably successful ten years. Any regrets I have in relation to my writing career thus far are minor relative to the validation I’ve felt upon reaching each of these milestones. And, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s yet another on the horizon that I just can’t talk about publicly yet.

Once I can, you’ll be the first to know.

A Minor Feast After the Famine

It’s been over a year now since my last blog post. My lack of recent activity here has a number of causes (excuses?), but I think I can sum it up by just saying “2020.” Even before the pandemic hit, I had a sense that my posts here were becoming increasingly elegiac, and I didn’t want to just keep regurgitating bad news, especially from a relative place of privilege as the year wore on. This year has been awful to almost everyone everywhere, but I’m aware of how fortunate I am to still have a job, a home, my decent health, and the relative safety of my loved ones. It feels neither productive nor fair to recap my own hardships when the vast majority of the country is experiencing the same or far, far worse.

So…2020, right?

But I do have this website for a reason, and that is primarily to share stuff about myself and my writing. And to that end, I have a couple of pleasant updates!

First, my sword & sorcery story “Three Hundred Pieces” has been reprinted in the most recent issue of Mythic. Buy it here.

Next, my pulpy science fiction story “Ahead of Dragons” is in the most recent issue of Planet Scumm. You can read the story online here, or buy the entire issue here. This story was a lot of fun to write, and I hope to play more with this setting in the near future.

There is even more exciting news on the horizon, but that’s for another time. For now, here are some photos from my trip to Montreal last year, when international travel was still a reasonable endeavor. The trip was for my day job, but I took the opportunity to pay respects to one of my heroes.

A Farewell to Art

Having not written about any movies here in 2019, I was planning to rectify this with a roundup of some of my favorite horror/monster films of the past three or four years, just in time for Halloween. But something more urgent has come up.

On Friday afternoon, I checked my email and promptly felt my heart break.

The Art Theater, a historic movie theater operating in downtown Champaign since 1913, and a regular haunt of mine since late 2010 or so, is closing its doors.


I can’t remember with absolute certainty which movie I saw there first, but I think it might’ve been Metropolis (1927). It wasn’t the first time I’d seen it, but it was the first time in a theater, and a period-appropriate one at that. There was also an astounding feature-length documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage (2011), about the rediscovery and restoration of a hand-colored print of A Trip to the Moon (1902), the first-ever science fiction film, culminating in a screening of the restored film itself.

The first of many horror films I saw there was the classic Universal Frankenstein (1931). It was the first time I’d ever seen it, and of course it immediately became an all-time favorite. It’s the first movie-going experience I remember at the Art that was exactly that: an experience. It’s quite something to witness this scene for the very first time on the big screen, no matter how old you are. It was the first of many such memorable, sometimes life-changing moments within the Art Theater’s walls.

It was where told an ex I loved her for the first time, during a screening of House (1977). Perhaps it was just the first time she said it back, but in any case the memory of love blooming in the back row in the light of that sometimes horrifying, sometimes hilarious fever dream of a film is one I will always treasure. That ex and I would return to the Art many times before the relationship ended, including for a memorable screening of Miranda July’s whimsical drama, The Future (2011), a screening of Crispin Glover’s film It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. at which we met Glover himself (and got his autograph!), and on a double-date to a screening of the iconic Nosferatu (1922) accompanied by a live orchestra. It was like traveling back in time.

My first kinda-sorta date with my current partner, Shelby, way back in 2014, was to an Art Theater screening of Willow (1988).


We laughed aloud at Warwrick Davis’s repeated cries of “Madmartigaaaaan!” and I hesitantly put my arm around her. She shrugged it off, but now it’s almost 2020 and we’re still together. She’s accompanied me (sometimes reluctantly) to countless Art outings, including such horror hits as Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) and Midsommar (2019), which she liked, as well as Re-Animator (1985) and The Lost Boys (1987), which she liked less. We even caught a showing of The Exorcist (1973), which frightened her but left her not wanting to see it again. Perhaps the most surprising Art Theater experience with Shelby was a group venture with my sister and brother-in-law to see the unsurpassed urtext of American slashers, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) in September 2017. None of us had seen it, and while I expected to enjoy it, I did not expect to love it as much as I did, let alone for Shelby (not generally a big fan of horror films) to love it as well. But she did, and does to this day. It’s one of my favorite little discoveries about her, and it might not have happened without the Art Theater. Another we both loved was Border (2018), a dark Swedish fantasy based on a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of Let the Right One In.


Though I did drag her to quite a few horror and weird fantasy flicks, we also saw romantic movies. Two Valentine’s Days in a row we made the Art our primary destination, first with Casablanca (1942), which I hadn’t yet seen, and then with Dirty Dancing (1987), one of Shelby’s favorites and one I was happy to rediscover. We also saw Purple Rain (1984) there, shortly after Prince’s death, and held each other as we wept through the titular song at the end.


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Some of my most poignant memories of the Art are also solitary ones. Alone, I attended a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) that reduced me to silent, shaking tears. Likewise, to a slightly lesser extent, with a screening of Stalker (1979), part of a month-long celebration of Soviet science fiction films in 2017. And again, with You Were Never Really Here (2017), an earlier, less derivative Taxi Driver-influenced psychological thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix that few seem to talk about anymore. And again, with Hagazussa (2017), a profoundly disturbing German take on The Witch that really deserves its own review here. And yet again, with Climax (2018), a largely improvised horror film that rivals both Black Swan and the recent Suspiria as a dance-centric descent into hell. And so on, and so on. The number of times I was moved before that screen, either alone or with company, are too many to mention, but here are a few other standouts:

  • Battleship Potemkin (1925): one of the greatest films of all time. I had no idea what I’d been missing until I decided to check it out at the Art one day. If you ever get a chance to see this in a theater, do yourself a favor.
  • Eraserhead (1977): sometime between 2012 and 2016, I saw this movie for the first time at the Art. Prior to this, I’d only dipped my toe in the David Lynch oeuvre with Dune and The Elephant Man, falling in love with both for different reasons. They did not prepare me.
  • Possession (1981): part of the October 2016 lineup, I had only heard of this movie a few months before and had become obsessed with the idea of tracking it down. Then, lo and behold, it came to the Art, and I was absolutely blown away. One of my favorite explorations of the surreal horror of a crumbling relationship, and another film that deserves its own discussion here.
  • Terminal Island (1973): a special one-night-only showing in July 2017 with a post-show discussion hosted by a University of Illinois film professor. I’d never heard of this one, but I’m so glad I went. A feminist action/exploitation film featuring a very young Tom Selleck!
  • Monterey Pop (1967): a special one-night-only showing in August 2017, I’d never seen this one before but had long considered purchasing the Criterion release. I adore the music of this era, and concert films like Woodstock are always a pleasure to watch. Seeing this on the big screen was almost transcendent. The Mamas and the Papas had me grinning from ear to ear, Janis Joplin’s performance of “Ball and Chain” made me cry with joy, and Jimi Hendrix’s almost ceremonial burning of his guitar was like a real magic ritual caught on film.
  • An Evening with Linnea Quigley, featuring Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Devotion (2016): part of the October 2017 lineup, this double-feature was the first time I’d seen Return of the Living Dead, which promptly became one of my favorite ’80s horror movies and my favorite zombie movie after the original Night of the Living Dead. The second film, Devotion, was directed by one of the Art Theater’s own staff and programmers, Jessie Steitz, and co-starred Quigley. The best part of the night? Being able to meet Linnea Quigley herself during intermission!
  • Empire of the Ants (1977): part of a “Science on Screen” series in 2018, featuring a post-show Q&A with entomologist May Berenbaum. A fun, cheap throwback to the giant bug movies of the 1950s, with a lot of neat discussion afterwards. I’d previously met Berenbaum at her annual Insect Fear Film Festival at the University of Illinois.
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955): another of the greatest of all time, another I’d been wanting to see for years, and another Criterion release I’ve always come this close to buying. I remember this was a matinee show, which was nice because I desperately needed some sunshine and fresh air after sitting in the dark with Robert Mitchum’s corrupt minister for 90 minutes.
  • Plus a slew of more recent movies that, without the Art, I would never have been able to see in a theater. Movies like Hard to Be a God (2013), Theeb (2014), The Void (2016), Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017), The Endless (2017), Filmworker (2017), Have a Nice Day (2017), and many, many others.

The Art is where I first witnessed the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, first with Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), and later with Santa Sangre (1989). Just recently, I attended a pair of screenings with my mother, Echo in the Canyon (2018) and Sword of Trust (2019), that blew both our emotional socks off.

Just walking back to my car at night after a late movie became a cherished ritual, a rich little slice of time in my favorite part of town after, usually, a good sit. That little walk was best when I was by myself, to reflect on what I’d just seen or caw at the gigantic murder of crows that almost invariably gathers near the Busey Bank parking lot in certain months of the year.

One of the Art’s greatest contributions to the Champaign-Urbana community was its annual New Art Film Festival, a showcase of locally-made films at all levels of budget and experience. In 2017, one of the featured shorts was an eleven-minute black-and-white called “I Was a Teenage Nosferatu,” co-written and produced by Shelby Koehne and myself, and directed, shot, and edited by Jeff Kacmarynski on a total budget of approximately $1,000. The screening itself was less than perfect: the MC forgot to credit Shelby in his intro and, at the film’s pivotal moment, a local news cameraman BARGED INTO THE DARKENED THEATER WITH A GODDAMN SPOTLIGHT, immediately distracting half the audience (I still have absolutely no idea why that was allowed or even considered, but it did happen). In spite of those hiccups, the singular experience of a film I had a hand in creating premiering at my favorite theater was a joy I won’t soon forget. You can now watch the film in its entirety on YouTube.


In its final years, the Art hosted an all-night horror movie marathon as part of its annual “Shocktober” Halloween program. I attended two of these: the first in 2017, and the last earlier this month. In 2017 I went in costume, only to find myself the only one there who’d dressed up. I sat in the back, somewhat self-conscious, and sipped iced Irish coffee through the small breathing hole of my latex Brundlefly mask (eventually, of course, I took the mask off, but for a little while it was kind of fun sitting in a crowded theater as a composite of André Delambre and Seth Brundle, sucking alcohol through a tiny straw with the cup clutched carefully in one thick-gloved hand). The movies were Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), The Last House on Dead End Street (1977), Eaten Alive (1976), and Nightmare Sisters (1988). I ducked out right before Dead End Street to change out of my costume, but returned in time for Eaten Alive and Nightmare Sisters.

I missed the marathon in 2018, but I did manage to see Chuck Russell’s remake of The Blob (1988) for the first time, and loved it every bit as much as the original.


The last movie I saw at the Art was the original Village of the Damned (1960), the third of five films chosen for Shocktober 2019’s all-night marathon. It was preceded by The Evil Dead (1981) and It Follows (2014), the former of which I’d never seen until that night, the latter of which was already among my personal favorites. By the end it was well after 2 A.M. and my eyelids were getting heavy, so I decided to go home early. If I’d known it would be my last time there, I would’ve powered through for the final two films. But if there had to be a last time, that’s not a bad triple-feature to end on.

I hope the Art is somehow able to return and continue, but it doesn’t seem likely. Champaign-Urbana is far poorer without it, and my life a little emptier.


Artwork from Champaign-Urbana’s Adventures in Time and Space escape rooms.


A Brief Coda to This Elegy:

As of this writing, the Art Theater’s management has, somewhat controversially, not elaborated on the precise reasons for shutting down, beyond a vague reference to “systemic challenges” brought about by a changing film industry. Despite whatever else may or may not have been going on with management behind the scenes, this rings true to me in the face of Disney’s ever-expanding monopoly and draconian handling of that which it has purchased. The Art would not be the first or last victim, and whether or not it bounces back under new management (as I sincerely hope it does), I’ll not be paying to see any more Disney-owned films until they change their policies.

Gene Wolfe: “I Still Remember the Goldfinches”

And now Gene Wolfe.

This is something I’ve feared for a little while now: the knowledge that I’ll never see Gene again at a convention. I first met him at Chicon 7 (the 70th World Science Fiction Convention) in Chicago, my first Worldcon. He was on a panel called “Learning to be Dangerous” with Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, and Connie Willis. He was the last panelist to arrive. I can’t remember much of the panel itself, although I do recall a woman in the audience coughing loudly throughout.

Afterwards I nervously approached Gene as he made his exit and we exchanged brief hellos, but I wouldn’t have my first real interaction with him until WindyCon 41 in Lombard, two years later. He wasn’t on any panels, or even listed as an official guest, but I spotted him and his daughter Teri in the dealer’s room, perusing some silver-headed canes. I watched them from a distance, hemming and hawing over whether I should approach or just leave them alone, and one of the dealers, noticing my distress, told me to just go ahead and go up to them.

“Gene’s a sweetheart,” the dealer said.

So I went ahead and went up to them, clutching a copy of the October/November 2004 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in my trembling fingers. I had brought it to be signed by another writer, my friend Richard Chwedyk (author of the beloved “saur” stories), and had actually just left a reading of Richard’s to hunt out paperbacks in the dealer’s room.

I introduced myself and asked if Mr. Wolfe would be kind enough to sign the magazine for me. Beaming proudly, Gene said of course he would, and as I offered him my pen Teri asked, “Would you like a picture?” Of course, I said yes, and without hesitation Gene linked arms with me.


He then suggested we take one with Teri as well, for the sake of fairness, and so I did my best to take a decent group selfie:


I didn’t remember until later that Gene had lost his wife, Rosemary, less than a year prior. And yet he laughed and quipped, welcoming fans like me with a big, gracious smile. He was indeed a sweetheart.

I saw him next only a couple of weeks later, at ChamBanaCon 44 in Champaign. He spoke on a panel with S. M. Stirling and Jean Rabe about novel-writing. I sat near the front and scribbled down notes. I found out that Gene was a regular guest at ChamBanaCon, and since the convention was both very close and very inexpensive, I decided to become a regular attendee.

Of course, then, I missed ChamBanaCon 45.

I made it to #46, though, and by this time I’d finished reading The Book of the New Sun in its entirety. Prior to that, I’d only read a smattering of his short stories, but by 2016 I’d been deeply bitten by the Wolfe. I brought the books for Gene to sign, and was able to catch him almost alone in the consuite. He seemed to remember me from our previous encounters, and we chatted for over an hour about The Island of Dr. Moreau and its various film adaptations, famous science fiction fans of years gone by, the origin of my last name, and writing in general. I was almost finished with an early draft of Nightbird then, and I briefly summarized the plot.

“That’s a good story!” Gene said. I contained my euphoric grin and back-patting until later in the hall, but only just.

Writer and musician Nathan Carson (yes, that Nathan Carson) flew over from Portland, Oregon to interview Gene at ChamBanaCon 47. It was wonderful to witness, and I’ll let the interview speak for itself (I was sitting just behind the camera). It was my first time meeting Nathan in person, though we’d been friends on Facebook for a couple of years, and we had a wonderful time hanging out, talking shop, and/or shooting the breeze over Chinese food. He signed some stuff for me and even joined me on my first-ever convention panel, on short stories. I was able to sneak in another consuite chat with Gene, this one shorter and a bit more crowded (more on that conversation can be found in my interview with Arm Cast Podcast, starting just after the 11-minute mark).

ChamBanaCon 48 was the last time I saw Gene. I hadn’t been planning to attend that year due to some recent changes in my home life, but on very short notice I was asked to co-host an interview with Gene similar to the one Nathan had conducted. I agreed, and began hastily coordinating questions with my co-interviewer, Andrew Busam. Andrew was a longtime die-hard fan like Nathan, while I was still a fairly recent convert and not as well-read in Gene’s bibliography. The interview went well, though I think I floundered a bit here and there. See for yourself.


After the interview, I gave Gene an inscribed copy of Nightbird in exchange for one last autograph, this time in my recently-acquired copy of Peace. I chatted a bit longer with him and Andrew in the consuite, and then quietly excused myself to go home.

And then, some five months later, on what will surely go down in history as one of the worst Mondays on record, I read the news online:

Gene Wolfe was dead, and Notre-Dame was burning.

Given Gene’s Catholic faith, it struck me as a peculiar pairing of tragedies. Of course, I knew he’d been ill for some time without knowing the details. And, as was the case when Harlan Ellison passed last year, many others will have more intimate remembrances of both the man and the body of work he left behind. I’m just thankful that I not only got to meet Gene, but become a repeat acquaintance of his. I’m thankful for his brilliant work, and even more so for his personal grace and humor. I’m more thankful than ever that I decided to go through with that last interview.

I’ll let Gene have the final word. During Nathan’s interview, he shared an anecdote (beginning at the 17:35 mark in the video) about driving to a formative writers’ conference and seeing a multitude of yellow dots on the road:

“As I got nearer, all the yellow dots flew up into the sky. They were goldfinches. And I don’t know what they had been doing with a flock of twenty, thirty goldfinches on the road, but that’s where they had been, and as I came toward ’em in the car they flew up. And I had the feeling, ‘I’m starting on a new life, this is a whole new thing that’s opening up in front of me.’ And I was right! It was! Y’know, I was gonna slowly give up engineering and move into being a pure writer, and that’s what happened. And I knew a whole different set of people, I was subject to a different set of rules and so on and so forth. I still remember the goldfinches. My favorite bird, by the way. They weren’t until they flew up in front of me, but once they had done that I clasped them to my heart.”