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Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey), and he firmly believes that Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is the single greatest atrocity committed against mankind. He is a graduate of Clarion Writer's Workshop at UCSD ('13) & Emerson College ('08).

All The People That You'll See At Every Nerd Convention

Whoa. I don't know how I missed this until now, although it feels particularly timely with New York Comic-Con this weekend (I'll be there doing coverage for Bleeding Cool and Tor — let's hang out!). Dorkly artists Julia Lepetit and Andrew Bridgman created these infographics breaking down every single stereotype you're likely to find at a comic book / video game / general geek culture-based convention, and, well, they're all pretty accurate (not to mention utterly hilarious). 

Whether you've been to a con or not, you'll be amazed at how long this list keeps going. And every single caricature is remarkably accurate. So I guess it's good that there are so many, because at least we're stereotyping people into too broad of categories? Sure, that sounds like a rational justification for laughing at other people (most of whom are just like me).

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An Ode to Candy Corn

I wrote this poem a few years back, but I thought it'd be fun to share again. Really it's just a long and convoluted way of saying, "That shit's gross, man; so why do I keep eating it?"

rounded wax wedges, waning; a tawny
base that tapers towards a soft point
white like tundra, in taste and texture,
bleeding out from burning copper ribs
hardly mellow hardened creme
of candle crops to harvest fat
free treats, a sign of times once pagan-
pluralistic-primal-precocious-pre-
human, uncivilized, re-captured,
re-claimed, costume the dead alive
and turn the season, turn to shovel
handfuls into mouths full of rotting
teeth a special offer, a limited time only
exciting when available but hardly
missed in memories of stomaches
turned to sick, in children as in men
but indulging in each dish we find it
harder to resist the solstice sweets
and let ourselves get lost inside
that sadistic sugar maize

For Sale: Genuine Soil From Dracula's Castle

Remember those wacky mail order ads for weird pulp fiction products that you used to be able to find in the back of old comic books?

This little gem from 1979 — limited to only 5,000, get yours today while supplies last! — was supposedly an attempt to capitalize on the release of yet-another Dracula movie that same year. I probably shouldn't be so dismissive, that was obviously well-before there were way too many vampire things around, but 1979 was considered by some to be 'The Year of the Dracula,' as Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (which, it should be noted, was not about Dracula) and Love at First Bite were also released that same year. So in that case, I guess that an amulet of "genuine" soil isn't the worst bit of opportunist merchandising possible? (he says, from a strange future world where pretty young vampires all love and sparkle)

If this was 2014, that little necklace would cost you $40 with shipping, all because some shkeevy marketing guy paid some Romanian dude $10 to dump some dirt into a box and ship it off to America. Forty bucks — and it doesn't even grant the wearer any mystical powers! (although if you ask me, that little disclaimer text is a prime example of "Thou doth protest too much"...)

However, it does include a certificate of authenticity, which makes me wonder — who exactly signed that certificate, and what sort of qualifications did that person have? Truly, what makes one an expert in vampire soil? Are there real vampire archaeologists out there who do this stuff? If so, the official Vampire Archaeology Authentication Council should probably review their application process, because "Dracula's Castle" isn't even a real place. Presumably, this soil comes from Bran Castle, which does claim itself to be "Dracula's Castle" as a tourist attraction due its location near the border of Transylvania and Wallachia. Although previously owned by Hungarian kings, the castle was actually repossessed by the city of Brasov in 1533 after Vlad II Dracul failed to pay some other loans he'd taken out — Vlad II Dracul being the father of Vlad III aka Vlad Tepes aka Vlad the Impaler, the supposed inspiration for the fictional character of Dracula, who was never known to have spent any time in or around Bran Castle during his life.

Supposedly, Stoker's inspiration for the physical layout and appearance of Dracula's castle in his novel is based on New Slain Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, according to Clare Haworth-Maden in The Essential Dracula. Despite popular opinion and prevailing cultural imagery, Dracula may have his roots more in Gaelic traditions and history than those of Eastern Europe, especially when you consider that Stoker himself was Irish. Fun fact: while "dracul" in Romanian does indeed translate to "Son of the Dragon," "droch fhola" in Irish Gaelic (pronounced "droc'ola") translates to "bad blood." Curious? Consider then the legend of Abhartach, an Irish warlord with dwarfism (but not one of the Daoine Maithe or Tuatha Dé Danann!) from present-day County Derry who was supposedly immortal and was said to have drank the blood of his enemies. From The Origin and History of Irish Names & Places:

There is a place in the parish of Errigal in Derry, called Slaghtaverty, but it ought to have been called Laghtaverty, the laght or sepulchral monument of the abhartach or dwarf. This dwarf was a magician, and a dreadful tyrant, and after having perpetrated great cruelties on the people he was at last vanquished and slain by a neighbouring chieftain; some say by Fionn Mac Cumhail. He was buried in a standing posture, but the very next day he appeared in his old haunts, more cruel and vigorous than ever. And the chief slew him a second time and buried him as before, but again he escaped from the grave, and spread terror through the whole country. The chief then consulted a druid, and according to his directions, he slew the dwarf a third time, and buried him in the same place, with his head downwards; which subdued his magical power, so that he never again appeared on earth. The laght raised over the dwarf is still there, and you may hear the legend with much detail from the natives of the place, one of whom told it to me.

Regardless of Dracula's origins, or the origins of his alleged soil from Castle Dracula, I suspect that this exclusive offer is no longer available. Fortunately, Darling Pet Munkee, a Boston-based band that just writes songs about ridiculous ads from the backs of old comic books, was kind enough to immortalize this rare necklace in song for our enjoyment:

TS Eliot's Gloucester, MA home is up for sale, with complementary TS Eliot ghost haunting

This is the way the world ends: not with a bang, but a mortgage.

The town of Gloucester is situated right there by the sea, so if you're looking for your own Death By Water, this could be it: TS Eliot's old Massachusetts summer home is currently up for sale — and it's said to be haunted by the ghost of Eliot himself. Indeed, the woman selling the house claims that her late husband, who passed away while working on a novel, claimed to see and hear TS Eliot's ghost around the property, as well as other spiritual entities.

Besides being an utterly fantastic opening pitch for a horror movie (sharpen those pencils, spec scripters!), this also begs the question: do ethereal forms need to be explicitly included in a Purchase-of-Sale agreement in order to be guaranteed along with the property? Or are they something like, I don't know, walls, which count as being something that is intrinsically bound to the house? I suppose it depends on the nature of the haunting, really.

Of course, the realtor herself denies the presence of any ghosts in the house, and doesn't even include it amongst the amenities in the property listing. Realtors in Massachusetts are actually not required by law to disclose any information about murders, deaths, or paranormal happenings that may be related to a property. According to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 93, section 114:

The fact or suspicion that real property may be or is psychologically impacted shall not be deemed to be a material fact required to be disclosed in a real estate transaction. “Psychologically impacted” shall mean an impact being the result of facts or suspicions including, but not limited to, the following:
  • (a) that an occupant of real property is now or has been suspected to be infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or any other disease which reasonable medical evidence suggests to be highly unlikely to be transmitted through the occupying of a dwelling;

    (b) that the real property was the site of a felony, suicide or homicide; and

    (c) that the real property has been the site of an alleged para psychological or supernatural phenomenon.
No cause of action shall arise or be maintained against a seller or lessor of real property or a real estate broker or salesman, by statute or at common law, for failure to disclose to a buyer or tenant that the real property is or was psychologically impacted.

I'm not sure why AIDS is explicitly singled out in there, but either way, it doesn't relate to Eliot's apparition, considering that he was living in the UK when he did. So I'm actually not even sure how or why his ghost would have gotten back to Massachusetts — although I suppose that could be an interesting story in and of itself.

Point is: if I were a realtor, I would definitely use TS Eliot's ghost as a selling point for the property, maybe even as a leverage point to mark up the price a bit more. This could also be why I'm not a realtor (also I'm terrible at negotiations because I think they're stupid so I probably wouldn't do that even if I was a realtor).

Interestingly enough, it seems that the house isn't even listed on any historical registries — and according to the seller, the only people who ever come by looking for some kind of Eliot connection are Asian tourists. I'm not sure if or how that's relevant to anything, but WGBH felt the need to make a note of it, so I thought I'd include it here as well, just in case.

Anyway, here's a little tour of the property, in case you've got $1.4 million bucks lying around and are just looking to make your life into a cheap horror plot:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
 Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;
 That is not it, at all."

Republicans Can Be Hipsters, Too

Before I go any further, I just want to make it clear that I love Republicans. Some of my best friends are Republicans. Hell, my dad is an ex-hippy who voted for Obama in '08 and we probably agree on about 85% of policy issues (though occasionally disagree on the most effective means to achieve those agreed-upon ends) and he's a registered Republican, too.

(See what I did there? With the "Some of my best friends are..." thing? That was pretty clever, right?)

But this? This is hilarious.

I truly don't mean this as a post to make fun of Republicans; but rather, to laugh at people who are genuinely out of touch. I also wasn't lying about having Republican friends — I think a lot of people on the quote-unquote "liberal" side of the equation do unfortunately pass judgement on anyone who associates with the "R-word," and assume that they are all bigoted hyper-Christian corporate sellouts, which is both untrue, and unfair. I make no secret that I identify with more progressive social politics (although my expertise when it comes to economic politics is admittedly lacking), but on a very base and literal level, "right wing" means "small government, less intervention" and "left wing" means "more government oversight." Obviously, this is not how things always play out, but that's the trick with partisan politics that force us to choose between big government and liberal social views, or small government and conservative social views; nothing in the real world plays out quite as black-and-white as the options that we're given. That's the crazy part of the political clock, where people on the radical left turn to anarchy which actually has more in common with pure Republicanism (or at least Libertarianism, which has its own set of "better-in-theory" problems).

So tl;dr, I do appreciate this campaign's attempts to say "Hey! Some of us just believe in a free market economy where the government doesn't watch and control our every move! (a completely justifiable belief!) Just because our big-name represented officials in DC support Citizens United and claim 'Christian persecution' while trying to ironically dictate laws to women about their own bodies, doesn't mean that all of us fall into that category!" And again — despite what a lot of people in my liberal circles insist, not everyone who identifies as Republican is a racist homophobic misogynistic hatemonger. So in that way — yeah, okay, this marketing campaign makes sense (although it is a bit strange that all of the major elected officials who identify as Republican — and this does not necessarily extend to local officials because, well, I just don't know — either fall into this category, or else don't speak up against it). And it's certainly true that we probably shouldn't be making fun of other people in general. That being said, it still comes off as a laughably desperate attempt at seeming "cool" and "in-touch with the kids these days" which, man, really isn't helping your cause...

But then, maybe the guy that started this #ImARepublican movement just got me to post something vaguely positive-ish about Republicans on my otherwise-progressive blog. So maybe, just maybe, his secret scheme is working.

Also, let's not forget that Johnny Ramone was a Republican, too (much to the chagrin of Joey Ramone, who wrote this song about Johnny when Johnny married his ex-girlfriend):

Holy Recaps, Batman!

Some of you may have caught the first episode of Gotham last night, the police-procedural-cum-superhero-origin-show about the early days of Gotham City before Bruce Wayne became Batman. As an avid fan of both noir and comic books, I've been looking forward to this show for a while, and I'm excited to announce that I will be handling the weekly Gotham recaps / reviews for Tor.

My overview of the pilot episode is already up (though admittedly, it's rather long and overly-detailed — not unlike the tepid episode itself), so please stop by and add your comments, then join us in the weeks to come!

In the meantime, to tide you over to next week's episode, here's a supercut of every instance of Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered on television and film:

Help Me Raise Money For Suicide Awareness & Get Free Stuff!

That's me and Mike to the left, circa 1999. Mike was one of my first friends I ever had, very much raised as a brother to me. He lost his life to suicide nearly five years ago now, and while you learn to deal with loss as time goes on, it never really goes away — you're left with questions and loss and one big hole that will never ever get refilled. That's part of the reason that I'm so sensitive and vocal about mental health (aside from own struggles); because I know what that suffering is like on all sides, and I don't think anyone else should ever have to experience those things.

I had other friends who'd lost loved ones to suicide, but Mike's death was really the first time I was forced to deal with losing someone so directly close to me, and especially in such a way. Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with loss, I've gotten my fair of share of practice in these last five years, and Mike's wasn't the only one of those that could have (maybe, possibly) been helped, or stopped.

I could go on and on about this, but since suicide has recently been in the public eye, I've decided to do something different. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosts walkathon fundraisers every year to raise money for research, education, and outreach programs about suicide. The Out of Darkness walk (as it's called) in my hometown is not just for Mike, but it is taking place right around the anniversary of his passing. I want to raise some money for the walk, in the hope that even though its too late to save my friends, it might make a difference in someone else's life, so that they don't have to suffer the same.

So here's the deal: I've put together a sweet little package of music and eBooks, all various things that I've created, and they can all be yours with a donation of any amount to the Hamden, CT Out of Darkness Walk for the American Foundation for Society Prevention (Go Team Mikey).

All you have to do is click here to make your donation, and the download should start right away! (It's a pretty hefty ZIP file, because all the music is uncompressed)

Thanks in advance for your support. It means more to people than you realize, and I hope you enjoy your little rewards. Here's what you'll get:

eBooks:

  • Fixing a Hole, a one-act play about two friends and a hole at the end of the world. Mike lived for theatre, and shortly his death, I wrote this as a kind of elegy to him, and a reflection on our relationship.
  • EndProgram.txt, a darkly comedic (or maybe just sad) short story about the death of a robot. Originally written and conceived in the 5th week of the Clarion Writer's Workshop under the guidance of Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler. 

Music:

  • If You Really Want To Hear About It, the unreleased EP from my college band the Roland High Life. Six tracks, plus two bonus b-sides. Track 2, "Your Last Fall" was written before Mike's passing...but listening to it now, it feels frighteningly prescient.
  • Three new cover songs recorded especially for this occasion:
    • "The 59 Sound" by the Gaslight Anthem, changed to "The 69 Sound" in honor of the recording of Mike's beloved "Let It Be";
    • "I Was Meant For The Stage" by The Decemberists, one of Mike's favorite bands, this song could just have easily been written from his point of view, especially given how he had committed his life to theatre. At the reception following his funeral, some of Mike's friends played a haunting video of him singing this song at karaoke (my parents actually thought it was a song he had written). Recording this was the first time I've listened to this song since then;
    • and "You Were Cool" by the Mountain Goats, an unreleased track, with a few lyrical changes, as John's protagonist lives in his version of the song (also Mike wasn't really known for wearing high heels back in high school, although I did think about changing it to something like "stalking down the concrete hallways / in your tight jeans / back in high school," but then I didn't). Still, the lyrics remind me a lot of Mike growing up, and what I wish I could say to him now.


Jeff Mangum + John Malkovich = NEUTRAL MALKOVICH HOTEL

My friend Jeremy is one of the most wickedly funny people I know. His previous venture White Bored Funnies provided me with endlessly entertaining stick fingers for several years, and now he's outdone himself once again with one of those stupidly brilliant ideas that you hate yourself for not thinking of first (that is, if you're the kind of person with a similar sense of humor and taste of music as me).

Enter: NEUTRAL MALKOVICH HOTEL, my new favorite meme. Neutral Milk Hotel lyrics superimposed over screenshots from John Malkovich movies. It's like The Diaries of Anne Frank meets Being John Malkovich. It's everything I've ever wanted. 

He'll be adding more as he goes on, I'm sure, but you can check out the Neutral Malkovich Hotel tumblr right now for all your carrot flower needs.

That Is A Damn Fine Ice Bucket Challenge

I've mostly stayed out of the whole ALS Ice Bucket Challenge phenomenon, mostly because I'm ambivalent — it's clearly successful in raising awareness (although I don't know how much money it's actually raised, or how important that awareness is in the grand scheme), but I can also be a bit contrary and resistant to jumping on band wagons. (Mostly I just don't care to pour a bucket of ice water on my head or to offer some cleverly deconstruction of this voyeuristic online ritual, so I've resigned myself to leaving it alone, but I don't begrudge anyone who does choose to participate)

That being said, my friend Jason shared this link with me on Facebook, and it was just too good not to share. One of the earliest bonding experiences that Jason and I had as roommates back in 2008 involved David Lynch and a creepy dude Kristoff who had a lisp, an Asian fetish, and a weak stomach, so this felt particularly appropriate.

Also Vladimir Putin. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.