Gothic/Romance in Nerve’s “The Heights”


A view from “The Heights”

I’d intended to follow Nelly, to watch her reactions even when the focal action was elsewhere but I lost my way, so to speak, on the urban moors of Nerve’s production of “The Heights.”

Such decisions are encouraged during immersively staged “consensual theatre” which is Nerve’s stock and trade. Audience members mingle around the action and are free to follow their hearts. Going into this production, based on Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I was oh-so-certain that Nelly would be the linchpin. She tells the tale, after all, this questionable narrator. Marisa Dluge, a Nerve regular, vividly conveyed this mesh of verbiage, modulating between narration and mimickry. My initial hypothesis was that Nelly would present the tale like she was playing with mental dolls, that every detail would be clearest through her perspective. The playbill even asked “Should we do what is right… or real?” and that seemed to be the kind of question that would vex Nelly, that ever vigilant, proper servant.

Nerve’s gritty, visceral production, thankfully, problematized my easy pre-interpretation.

First Obstacle: I found it impossible to ignore Catherine’s very embodied ghost. Just as Rachael Harbert was a revelation as the Red Queen in Nerve’s Alice, her portrayal here was eloquently gestural. Though Catherine never speaks a word during the performance, she and Nelly engage in a near constant dialogue, with Harbert providing physical response and counterpoint to Dluge’s accounts of the story. (If I were smarter, better read and only slightly more pretentious, I might launch some observation involving Sedgwick’s notion of homosociality, that Nelly and Catherine both use Heathcliff as an object of gratification, a token of exchange. But fuck the footnotes, OK?) My favorite moments of “The Heights” involve Harbert’s Catherine. For instance, her unabashed welcome of the returning Heathcliff, played by the handsome and talented Steve Xander Carson, where she fused herself to his body like a tattooed glyph, brought tears to my eyes. In another scene, she struggled palpably beneath the figure of Edgar, who is literally no more than a stuffed shirt, so painfully evocative of the weight of her ill-considered marriage. Her portrayal of that pivotal scene made sense of an enigma I found in the story. Catherine, too, broods on the question of rightness and realness, which honestly, I missed in my quick perusal of Brontë’s novel.

A second obstacle to my facile pre-reading was the evocatively creepy stage design. Full disclosure: I helped build some of the pieces but the way my scant contributions were woven into the complete design was quite remarkable. I particularly liked how the weird assemblages of Book/Trees cast textural shadows around the room. Lines from the text were written in large letters across the floor, some of which were only legible from the balcony. That raised alcove offered other treats for the curious. The set was interesting before the performance but was even more intriguing after the actors had their way with it. While audience members filed out, I wandered the set again, taking in the family grave site that had been erected in one corner during the performance, and in another corner, the site where Heathcliff (nearly) exhumed Catherine’s corpse. It felt appropriate that “The Heights” was staged in Gallery 17, an art gallery in the Russell Industrial Center since the set evolved in respond to the actions of the play, becoming an art installation all its own. In fact, before the final performance this Saturday, Nerve is allowing patrons to tour this installation (3:00 – 4:00 PM, Saturday April 25)

I could quibble about certain infelicities. The echoe-y cement walls swallowed some of the dialogue. Before the show, we were warned about proper behavior, which gave a sense of undue delicacy to this rather rough and tumble ballet. And the audience clumped together at times like they’d been given assigned seats. No matter, the production roared to life subsuming all impediments.

Spring is the time for lovers, and Nelly’s stormy tale of Heathcliff and Catherine is indeed a timeless affair. In proper fairy tales, love ends in happy ever afters, a happiness which apparently relies on rightness and propriety. “The Heights,” however, is no such comforting bedtime story. If you’re fortunate enough to score tickets, this production portrays other passions, ones that leave us breathless, ruined, quite unfit for Heaven, yet darkly fulfilled.

Right or Real? Nerve leaves the choice to you.

Check here for ticket availability.

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“The Heights” — Nerve’s invitation to Wander the Moors

10978521_1571869419721918_1248196256115469464_nExpect to get your hands dirty if you were lucky enough to score tickets to “The Heights,” the latest production by Nerve, the Detroit based performance company. Nerve productions typically immerse audience members inside the playing space, and their adaptation of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is no exception. Ticket numbers are limited to allow participants space to roam the “urban moors” that Nerve has constructed at Gallery 17 in the Russell Industrial Complex. The run is extremely limited as well, just four performances, April 17 and 18, 24 and 25. (Tickets might still be available here.)

Any reader of the DailyNightmare really should be familiar with Brontë’s tale of stormy gothic passions, of sex and death and ghosts… though I confess I wasn’t. To prepare for the show, I listened to the free audio version available from I am also prepared, however, to have a unique experience apart from a “traditional” reading of the text. Nerve has pared the tale down to its most vital spine to sharpen the essential question “…should we do the right thing or the real thing?” The drama is enacted by Steven Xander Carson, Rachael Harbert, and Marisa Dluge.

If you are wondering what to expect from the performance, Nerve’s mission statement provides some hints: “We define success as sensation. We take space and use it. We make consensual art. Our audience is everywhere.” From attendance at previous productions, we know Nerve’s “consensual art” invites but does not require the audience’s participation, yet the magic of the performance is enriched by the attendees’ willingness to play. The final alchemy of the event is more easily experienced in person than explained in abstract.

Nerve is (in)famous for its puppets, and I’m told several constructed actors will appear in this production as well. I’m curious how they will fit into this production– and the only way to find out for sure is to be there, but here are some previews:

Fair warning: all tickets must be purchased in advance, so if you want to wander these urban moors this spring, you’ll need to plan ahead. In fact, act right now.

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Nightmares about Bugs!

If you are looking for bug-related nightmares to inspire 100-word stories, follow the links below. Keep in mind that we’re defining the category broadly, so topics can include insects and arachnids, worms and slugs, ants, bees and creepy crawlies as well as diseases, biological, mental and spiritual.

The March 30 deadline approaches quickly! Submission details can be found here.

Nightmare #249: House Consumed by Bugs and Rats

Nightmare #222: Water Bugs

Nightmare #182: Bugs Everywhere

Nightmare #339: The Needle and the Conqueror Worm

Nightmare #336: Pick on Someone your own size

Nightmare #225: Smothering Humidity and Heat

Nightmare #310: Larval Goddess

Nightmare #75: Snakes and Straw

Nightmare #71: Snakes and Chain Fence

Nightmare #143: The Dark Carnival

Nightmare #84: Bees and Spiders… and Nazis?

Nightmare #26: Monstrous Bees

Nightmare #360: House of 1000 Copses

Nightmare #358: Child Vampire

And to be sure, there are many MORE nightmares about bugs among the collection that would prove suitable for a 100-word prose poem for the Quick Shivers about Bugs anthology. We invite you to explore, to experiment, and frankly to shake up the editors’ mailbox. Be clever, horrific, reflective, playful and wise in your word choice. 100 words allows no time for fillers, dull words, or repetition. Are you ready to try? Good!

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Le Marche du Nain Rouge 2015, Detroit

According to legend, le Nain Rouge, a feisty local demon, cursed Père Cadillac over 300 years ago as he tried to found the city of Detroit. This “red dwarf” has continued to plot Detroit’s demise ever since… until Detroit took action.


Every year, on the first Sunday after the Spring Equinox, the Nain Rouge re-appears in Midtown to heap scorn and sow discord in the the Motor City. And every year since 2010, Detroit has united to march the troublemaker out of town in grand style.


Called the “Mardi Gras of the Midwest,” the annual Marche du Nain Rouge is a glorious expression of community pride. Equal parts Carnivale-type floats, home-town parade, semi-pagan rite of spring and old-fashioned Motown party, the Marche has steadily grown in attendance.


Participants are encouraged to wear costumes so that the vindictive Nain Rouge doesn’t seek retribution. Creative folks live in southeast Michigan, as these photos attest.





The predominant color is red, fitting both to the Nain Rouge and to local hockey team, the Red Wings.




The Nain Rouge perched atop a mechanical cockroach that spewed smoke and dour music…


But the revelers included the Detroit Party Marching band who countered his gloom with butt-shaking jams.
IMG_5668This year, attendees paraded the mean-spirited Dwarf down Second Street, starting by Traffic Jams and ending at the Masonic Theatre, where he was successfully banished for another year.
A dance party ensued in the sumptuous Fountain Ballroom in the basement of Masonic. If tradition holds, that cantankerous dwarf will return next Spring so why not plan to join the resistance and take your place in the next Marche du Nain Rouge in downtown Detroit, Michigan?


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Long Distance Bromance: Ken MacGregor on Collaboration

I first met Ken MacGregor when his film “The Quirk and the Dead” was under consideration for the 2013 Impy Award. (Watch it on YouTube.) Ken wrote, directed and acted in that short, oddly sweet zombie movie, based on one of his short stories. But I really got know Ken by carpooling to monthly meetings of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken’s relentless drive to keep writing and keep submitting is a source of great personal encouragement. Though he started writing professionally only a couple years ago, Ken’s work has appeared in over 50 publications. His first collection of creepy tales, An Aberrant Mind, came out last year on Siren’s Call Press. I grin whenever I even *think* of his character Gavin the werewolf. I asked Ken to write a bit about the experience of writing a series of novels with Kerry Lipp, a collaboration that was productive long before the two met face to face.

Long Distance Bromance
Ken MacGregor

Writing has been called one of the loneliest jobs in the world. Sometimes, it really is. But, once in a while, if you find the right person, it can kinda be a party.

I write a lot of horror, among other things, and I’ve been picked up by several anthologies. Some of the same names come up over and over in the tables of contents and you start to get to know people. This one writer, Kerry Lipp (middle initials G.S. for Giant Squid – you’ll have to ask him why) wrote in a style I found very entertaining. His characters were people I could imagine drinking beer with. His sense of humor was remarkably similar to mine. His story-telling resonated with me.

So, around the end of 2012, I shot him a note asking if he wanted to try something together. He asked if I had anything in mind. I did.

I sent Kerry the opening to a short story I had started in which a man wakes up one morning physically dead, but still mentally sharp. He liked it, picked up where I left off and sent it back. We went back and forth like that until we had over 4,000 words and a complete story. It was called “Stiffed” and appears in an anthology called “Life of the Dead.” (This is a shameless plug.)

We had so much fun writing together, I asked if he wanted to do it again.

“Sure,” he said, cheerfully (at least, I assume so. It’s hard to tell tone in a Facebook message). So, I sent him another beginning I had. He liked this one, too, and we did the Ping-Pong thing with the words.
Somehow, though, this one got away from us. The story just kept going. Before we know what was happening, we had written a novel.

How cool is that?

So, from a chance meeting of two writers who liked each other’s work came the first of what will likely prove to be a series of books (we’re already 9,000 words into the sequel and have written a 4,000-word origin story of one of the characters).

Kerry and I have become pretty good friends through this process, which is great. The weird thing, though is that I’ve only ever met him once, at ConText in Columbus, Ohio.

I’ll tell you one thing, however: if we manage to sell this novel, we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other. In the meantime, we’ll keep writing, making each other laugh, leaving our characters in the lurch for the other one to deal with and having a hell of a good time doing it.

We’ll keep our long-distance bromance going as long as it keeps working. Though, to tell you the truth, I have been thinking about seeing other writers…

Posted in Fiction, Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers | 1 Comment

Daily Nightmare Interviewed by Little Red Reviewer

We were delighted to meet the Little Red Reviewer at Context this past fall and excited to be interviewed recently by her. You can read all the details on her blog here. We both had a great time answering her questions.

For an impressive 10 years, the Little Red Reviewer has blogged about books, authors, and reading. Her record as reviewer shows serious commitment. If you are looking for reading recommendations, check out her site!

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TREMENDOUS e-book deal — Subterranean Press Humble Bundle

Humbe Bundle Sub PressSubterranean Press publishes gorgeous editions of speculative fiction, and they’re based right here in the Midwest which makes them a special delight to the Midwest Horror Snobs here at the DailyNightmare. To celebrate 20 years of publishing, Subterranean Press is teaming up with the Humble Bundle and WorldBuilders with a great promotion. Hurry over to Humble Books to pickup some choice ebooks at very reasonable prices. BUT HURRY because the offer is only good until March 3rd.

Humble Bundle is a nifty operation which offers bundles of books, games and comics, and splits the proceeds with a charity. For the Subterranean Press promotion, pay WHATEVER you want and you get seven ebooks, DRM-free — (including The Ape’s Wife and other Stories, a collection of dark weird fiction by Caitlin Kiernan who is one the Doktor’s favorite authors.) Pay more than the average price (currently about $13 bucks) to unlock a FULL DOZEN more titles (including Clive Barker‘s Tortured Souls and The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein by Thomas Ligotti) or pay more than $15 to unlock the whole kit and kaboodle.

One slick feature of the Humble Bundle is a set of sliders that allow you the purchaser to decide how much of your contribution goes to Subterranean Press or a charity, in this case WorldBuilders. All, none, little, some, you get to decide. Worldbuilders deserves a plug all on its own. Formed as a registered charity by fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss (The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man’s Fear) Worldbuilders rewards folks who donate to Heifer International. Heifer International is non-profit charity that seems to me is based on the traditional wisdom, “Give someone a fish, feed for a day; teach someone to fish, feed for a lifetime.” Heifer International gives folks the means to change the conditions of poverty and hunger. But if it’s not your jam, you can choose to divert your payments to Subterranean Press or Humble Bundle itself.

At least check out the deal before it closes on March 3rd. And if ebooks aren’t your thing, check out Subterranean Press for gorgeous hardbound editions of speculative fictions.

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Til Death Do Us Part– Films from Three Corpse Circus

Til Death at Corner

If you are among those who need a good mouthful of horror to get rid of the saccharine-sweet taste of Valentine’s Day, you’ll want to attend the Three Corpse Circus‘ upcoming evening of short horror films at the Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti, MI. “Til Death do us part” will bring together a collection of films about love and relationships, but don’t expect all flowers and hearts– at least, not beating hearts. The show runs from 8 – 11pm on Tuesday, February 10, promising an evening of horror, love and beer.

The promo poster features a still from “Dead Hearts” which played at the Three Corpse Circus in October 2014, a movie that incidentally stole my heart. The ending of the film filled my nose with sniffles and eyes with tears– and who would have expected that from a film that included a first kiss in a mortuary, a blind karate expert, and Little Red Riding Hood taking on a werewolf gang? I cannot wait to watch it again.

Also on the docket is “‘Til Death“, a short black comedy from Hands Off Productions, the team behind the fantastic short film “I Owe You,” which won the 2014 Impy Award.

It’s always delightful to see what the Three Corpses provide for an event– and this theme and time of year is rife with possibilities. I’m looking forward to having my heart broken, played with, torn up, and stabbed. It’s Valentine’s Day; who’d want anything less from the movies?

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“I Owe You” – Impy Award Handoff

We got a SURPISE in Columbus…

The Impy chills in the Torpedo Room, Columbus

The Impy chills in the Torpedo Room, Columbus

When Elsa and I traveled to Columbus to award Jason Tostevin this year’s Impy, we weren’t prepared for our reception. The Impy recognizes cinematic achievement in short horror films produced in Midwest, but the rules somewhat jokingly note “with the possible exception of Ohio.” The genuine Buckeye hospitality we were shown made us seriously consider revising that proviso. Honestly. What could (nearly) prompt a change of heart in this second-generation Wolverine? In addition to his artistic skill, Jason Tostevin, producer of “I Owe You” and mastermind of “Hands Off Productions,” also throws a great party.

We convened at the Gateway Film Center, an impressive cinema destination in the heart of Columbus, adjacent to the Ohio State University campus. For this celebration, Tostevin gathered some of the principal talent involved in making “I Owe You” such a dark gem.

Trista Caruso who played “Diane” in “I Owe You” has also appeared in several “Hand Off Productions” including the medical horror short “Room 4C (2011)” and the heart-warming fantasy “Stones, (2010)” both of which were done as part of Columbus 48-hour film festival. (View her other IMDB credits here.)

Elsa happily reports that actor Brian Spangler (who played “Cam”) is as handsome in real life as he is on-screen. She was also not surprised that he fronts a band (Barefoot Swagger.) Brian has also appeared in several previous Hands Off productions, including twisted romantic horror tale “Til Death (2013)” and “Help Wanted” which was produced for the 2013 Columbus 48-hour Film Festival.
(View Brian’s other IMDB credits here.)

I was particularly pleased to meet Randall Greenland whose script provided a tight narrative cohesion. Many short films have a keen visual style and some even feature great acting but Randall’s economical and expressive script pushed “I Owe You” to the winner’s circle. Randall is also a long-time member of the team and has provided many scripts for Hands Off Productions. (View his IMDB credits here.)

Tostevin has assembled a team of folks who enjoy each other’s company and that sense of easy collaboration comes through in their films.

Randall Greenland, Jason Tostevin (with Impy), Brian Spangler and Trista Caruso

Randall Greenland, Jason Tostevin (with Impy), Brian Spangler and Trista Caruso

Jason has also found creative ways to work with other independent filmmakers. While taking his films to festivals, Tostevin encountered many remarkable short films that he knew wouldn’t get screened widely due to their brief running times. Tostevin worked with other award-winning directors to collect seven admirable films in “Seven Hells (2014)” a feature length anthology that premiered at the Gateway Film Center in the fall of 2014. Check out a teaser for Seven Hells here. Included in this collection is his own piece “‘Til Death,” a comedy-horror short about the unintended morning-after consequences that four guys discover after killing their partners. “Til Death” has won over 100 awards in various festivals, making it perhaps the most winning-est short in Ohio film history. Check out the “Til Death” listing at IMDB here. “Seven Hells” was such a success that Tostevin plans another anthology film, this one collecting various romantic-horror films suited particularly well for Valentine’s Day. I like a guy who finds ways to spread horror all around the calendar.

The Torpedo Room, inside the Gateway Film Center, Columbus, Ohio

The Torpedo Room, inside the Gateway Film Center, Columbus, Ohio

Jason chose the perfect location for this award celebration, namely The Torpedo Room, a steampunk-Jules Verne themed restaurant located inside the Gateway Film Center. I immediately fell for the decor of brass portholes, woodcut sea monsters, leaded glass and a view screen that looped classic Verne inspired movies. The Torpedo Room is a fully licensed restaurant featuring fun food and drink. I had a brussel sprout pizza and a blood orange wheat beer. The Torpedo Room’s concept is the design of Columbus restaurant legend Elizabeth Lessner whose other clever eateries include Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace and the Surly Girl Saloon all heavily themed, fun eateries. (Elsa and I added them all to our growing list of Cool Things to Do Next Time in Columbus. Before meeting Jason, I couldn’t have imagined such a list was possible.) One clever way The Torpedo Room partners with the Gateway is in creating special drinks to tie into the current running shows. Elsa and I are always scoping out what we call “Weird Date Nights,” and having the Torpedo Room inside the Gateway makes the traditional dinner and a movie easy and enjoyable.

Jason also arranged a personal tour of the Gateway Film Center. This modern day movie palace features both state of the art digital projection as well as not one but two theaters capable of showing 35mm prints. (Yes, there’s a difference.) While traversing the hidden innards of the building, I asked if the Gateway, like most theatres, was haunted and I learned of “Barry” (named after “Barry Lyndon,” of course) a good-natured spectre who occasionally unplugs devices and moves small objects. The Gateway makes great use of this facility to celebrate film, from independent features to classic gems to contemporary blockbusters. A couple of their on-going programs might particularly appeal to readers of DailyNightmare. The “Nightmares from the Crypt” film series screens lesser seen horror films worthy of a second look while their “Nightmares on High Street” series shows the best independent contemporary horror. I was particularly interested in their monthly “Show us your Shorts” event which is like an open-mike night for film. The first ten participants get to share their short film with the audience who votes for their favorite. Winner takes home the ticket sales for the night. What a great way to inspire filmmakers and foster a sense of camaraderie. The Gateway Film Center seems committed to making film a fun communal event.

Elsa and I chatted, munched and filled our list of cool Columbus must-hit locations, but we had one last question for our gracious host. We at the DailyNightmare believe horror is best seen against a backdrop of hope. What gives Jason Tostevin hope in this world?

My personal relationships make me hopeful. Some of the best, most supportive (and challenging, in the best way) people I’ve met have been on the film festival circuit; we’ve become an international network of indie filmmakers who promote and support and look out for one another. That’s pretty special and makes me optimistic.

In life, my wife and kids make me hopeful. Seeing my girls grow up in a world where there are real social issues being talked about and acted on — where most people agree that my daughters, when they’re grown, should be paid the same as men, that they don’t need to marry (but they can, including if they’re gay), that they should be free from men’s sexual expectations, that bullying is bad — has me optimistic that they’ll live in a world with better men and women than their parents did. And that’s kind of why we do it, right — tell stories and create a new generation. So the world gets better?

On this note, Elsa and I bid adieu to Jason Tostevin and the wonders of Columbus, assured in the fact that this year’s Impy had found a worthy home.

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Krampus Ball Ypsi 2014

A shot early in the evening when the dance floor wasn't packed

A shot early in the evening when the dance floor wasn’t packed

Let purists quibble that 2014 Krampus Ball Ypsi, held last night at the DreamLand Theatre, happened too long after the Feast of St. Nicholaus (December 6th) when the Krampus traditionally run free. There is NO better way to prepare for the shortest day of the year, than to dance the night away at a debauched masquerade. This was the first Krampus Ball that Elsa and I attended, and we were delighted top to bottom, start to finish.

I wish I could say that my dance floor photos were intentionally blurred to protect the naughty from Santa’s wrath, but truth is I couldn’t keep from shaking my ass long enough to take a good shot.


As befits the Krampus tradition, dancers took turns getting spanked. Here, a marionette Krampus scourged one of the naughty, which blended a deliciously perverse Punch and Judy element into the already twisted tradition. Throughout the night, the Dreamland Theater’s cast of marionettes performed. Make no mistake: puppets party hard.


But the highlight of any masquerade is the costumes. I’d worked on my costume all week (as I blogged about here) and Elsa dolled herself up good with her corset and Theatre Bizarre fez.


I was extremely glad to see others had indulged their creativity.


The costume contest allowed contestants to shimmy and shake during the judging phase. But in the end, the golden baton went, appropriately enough to a Krampus — complete with basket of bad children.


At midnight, the festivities reconvened outside led by a locally familiar torch-bearer.


A brass band performed as we paraded to a mystery location, behind a traveling screen of shadow puppets. These monstrous outlines of light and shade seemed particularly appropriate for such near Solstice revels.


On and on, into the night, into the wilds, we danced.


We arrived at a secondary party location complete with fire barrels, more shadow puppets, and brass band music.


The party was still going STRONG when Elsa and I strayed back to reality, sure of only one thing: We’ll definitely be back for Krampus Ball 2015.


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Creepy Crafts: Krampus Mask

IMG_4521I’ve loved Krampus — St. Nick’s horned enforcer — for years now. I’ve posted about Krampusläufen (Krampus rampage-parades) books about Krampus and the vindictive Alpine beast nearly topped the list of 10 Best Holiday Monsters a couple years back. Until this year, however, I hadn’t taken the time to make myself a Krampus Mask. My final impetus came from the Krampus Ball 2014 to be held 20 December at the DreamLand Theatre, Ypsilanti. Yes, yes, it’s a bit late. Krampus typically appears around 6 December and St. Nick’s feast day but this event promises to be a Solstice-shindig, a time for monsters to let their hair down and cut loose… as if that would be a problem for Krampus.

The design for my Krampus mask started with a pallette to distinguish it from a mere horned demon (reds) or woodland faun (greens and browns.) I wanted to go COLD and than meant blues and whites. I’m channeling a bit of Cold Miser here (who also made our list of Best Holiday Monsters BTW) White fur, chilly blues… heck I was tempted to try icicles. I knew I’d wear this to a party, so I didn’t want horns that might poke others if I got wild on the dance floor. This meant curled ones. Honestly though, much of this “design” work happened as I started playing around with the materials. I find too much pre-planning can really inhibit my craftiness but your mileage may vary.
Since I am a hoarder, I next raided my box of failed experiments where I found a forehead mask made of plaster bandages form-fitted to my face (and yes, I happen to have a model of my head made on a previous Weird Date Night with Elsa) and a gritty paper mache nose I’d made atop a commedia d’ellarte mask. The base mask was rigid enough that I thought it could anchor the horns. I also liked how the nose would echo the shapes of the Krampus horns. I glued them together with white glue and clamped them with bull clip style paper clips. The paper clips are incredibly useful tools, second only to my vast collection of brushes. Pro Tip: use a brush to spread the glue then wash the brush out thoroughly.

Horn after crumpling but before twisting

Horn after crumpling but before twisting

The horns started simply enough. I took a sheet of stiff craft paper (11 x 17 but I don’t think that really matters) and made a paper airplane which I crumpled up. It’s easy to overly compress the root part of the horns so I adjusted them after initial formation. Pro Tip: natural horns curl in a particular direction — check out some reference photos if your’e going for realism — but I was really accenting an asymmetrical vibe so I purposefully ignored Mother Nature and made two “right-hand” twisting horns. I’ve read that our brains find asymmetry to be “unnatural” and I wanted to tap into that sense to make my Krampus feel monstrous. For weight and stability concerns, I needed horns that were basically hollow so I added just a thin layer of blue paper towel wetted down with normal white glue. If I was doing this again, I might try applying the cloth layer directly to the crumpled paper airplane but since this was my first time making horns, I’m glad I used an intermediate layer. Dan Reeder of Gourmet Paper even removes the interior paper once he’s applied the top coat. Papier-Mâché Monsters“>Reeder’s book Papier Mache Monsters has been a great encouragement in this project and others. His series of Youtube videos is both instructive as well as amusing. Check them out especially if you need to psyche yourself up before getting dirty with the craft gear.
The tricky part was how to let them dry without deforming them or letting them stick to a surface. Pro Tip: glue is sticky! I used two wire clothes hangers. I twisted them into a rough spiral shape and suspended them from the copper pipes in the basement ceiling. My workspace is quite modest by the way so don’t think you can’t do this because you don’t have a workspace like on FaceOff. My surface is half of a chest type freezer, illuminated by two bare lightbulbs, in a basement that lacks running water. Your most serious limitations often are in your mind… which isn’t to say they aren’t real.


Once things dried overnight, I attached the horns to the face mask with more white glue (use that brush for an even coat!) held in place with magic duct tape and clamped with more bull clips. At this point the structure is only semi-stable. Again, I suspended the construction with those deformed clothes hangers. (Note: I sprayed the horns with gray primer mostly because I was chickening out and needed to see if they even vaguely looked like actual horns.)
This step is where the magic happens. Seriously. I have to give props again to Dan Reeder. Using cloth and glue instead of newsprint and flour-paste results in creations far superior to the papier-mache I learned in grade school and far cheaper and lighter than the plaster bandages I had been using. I started with the horns. I love the spiraling ridges found on some horns and decided to replicate them with the cloth layer. I wetted down one side of the cloth strip in glue, then rolled the long end to make that ridge. Then I wetted the other side, squeegeed off the excess and applied it to the horn starting at the tip. Again, real horns have a natural twist to them… and I realized too late that one of my horns has ridges going in the opposite direction to the horn’s twist. I let these horns dry while I was at work.
When I got home, I applied the cloth and glue treatment to the face. I rather liked the warty texture of the nose so I focused on the forehead, mostly wanting to add stability to the point where the horns attached. Again, reference photos are your friend. Dig especially this video about how Dan Reeder replicated “Darkness” from the movie Legend (1985) While the glue is still wet, play with the strips. The folds are highly reminiscent of flesh already and with a little finessing using the handle of a paintbrush, they can be manipulated into rather subtle expressions. Don’t worry TOO much at this point. Paint will really help sell the shapes you’ve created at this stage.
After letting the cloth layer set overnight, the mask was ready for a base coat. I had half a gallon of light blue house paint in my craft hoard so I started there. I wanted tonal variation in the piece, going from nearly white at the tip of the nose to much darker on the horns. The base coat at least finally gave me a sense that the mask was coming together. I had some leftover blue spray paint also in the craft hoard which I used on the horns.
But then I realized that same deep purply-blue would be good for the creases of the brow and along the nose so I sprayed a bit on the face as well. I angled the direction of the spray down ward so to hit the crevices of the wrinkles. I figured worse comes to worst, I could paint over it with more blue housepaint.

Once the base and accent colors had thoroughly dried, I picked up a 1″ craft brush and started dry brushing more of the blue house paint. Dry brushing is its own kind of magic since the pigment only sticks to the raised textures. The monster was starting to come alive. I then used a bit of ice-blue (extremely pale) craft acrylic on the tip of the nose. I have learned from many bad experiences that it’s easy to ruin something by over-working it so once I got the general sense of color laid in, I let it dry. I got the overly dramatic lighting on this shot by hanging the piece on clothes hanger wire but then turning the picture upside down.


While the paint dried, I took some of craft fur and started fashioning a cowl. I bought WAY too much fur… but it went into my craft hoard for later monsters. The cowl barely used half a yard. I got what was called “Grizzly Bear–White” fur, a name which I found kind of comical. I placed a corner in the center of my forehead and let it drape over my head and down my back. I figured I could get a rough head shape with two cuts radiated from my, ahem, bald spot area. I boldy made a couple snips. I hand stitched the pieces together and cut away the excess. The expert at the fabric store warned me to make cuts from the underside using an exacto blade or else I’d get a faceful of fluff. She was right. This cowl is NOT high couture and if I wasn’t wearing a blue horned demon mask on top of it, I might even be embarrassed to be seen in it. Mostly I wanted something that would read as a full head of hair as well as a bit of weight to help balance the mask.
I grabbed my detail brush and used more of that ice-blue to accent the wrinkles in the forehead, the ridges of the horns and to add some creepy veins around the eyes. I glued a bit of fur scrap to the face for eyebrows and I was more or less done.

My secret for keeping a face mask attached to my head is a shoelace. They’re strong, readily available and long enough to wrap around most people’s heads, which is my other secret. Some of the masks I make aren’t overly strong, and I’d hate to tear one in half as I’m tugging on the strings to fasten it around my head. To minimize the force on the mask, I run the shoe string through two holes just around forehead height. The string runs on the inside of the mask’s front.
The cowl came out better than I feared given that I don’t really sew and I left it to the last minute. I made a tuft in the center of the forehead by cutting a triangle, then hand stitching the edges together to hide the seams and add some loft. Note well, HAND stitched. The expert at the fabric store said I could use a layer of tissue paper to help keep the fluff from mucking up the spindle of my sewing machine… but I decided to save that device for when I need regular, visible seams. I attached this tuft to the mask itself with a medium sized bull clip. I then finished the edged by cutting triangles, sewing together the seams then finger-pressing them flat so the seams were hidden. It’s a bit like a fright wig but it also adds a bit of stability and weight to the mask.
I’ll complete the look by wearing my neon blue shark-skin tuxedo jacket and my black dancing-jeans. You could argue that this mask isn’t “really” Krampus since it lacks that salacious tongue, and you’d be right. But I’m also not bringing a basket to haul away the naughty nor a bramble of sticks to whip the insolent. But I also won’t be that guy in the low-effort didn’t-even-bother-to-try outfit. There’s satisfaction enough for me in knowing that.

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More Weird and Wonderful Gift Ideas

Doll Arm and Trilobite Beads Necklace by the Dreaming Squid

Doll Arm and Trilobite Beads Necklace by the Dreaming Squid

Here are a few more suggestions from the denizens of to make your holidays a little brighter. As with our earlier Weird and Wonderful Gift suggestions, the ideas below are fantastic opportunities to show off-the-beaten-path affection for the macabre-lover, horror fan, or creatively dark individual on your shopping list. If you don’t have enough time to bring your gift-giving fantasies to life before your self-imposed or calendar-based deadline next week, keep this list handy for the other gift-giving occasions that arise throughout the year.

Check out the Dreaming Squid Dollworks & Sundries on etsy. You’ll find lovely and original handmade art dolls for display as well as jewelry pieces that combine skeleton keys, doll parts and trilobite beads.

We are big fans of MakerWorks, the local maker-space which sports a host of resources, from woodshop and metal works to fabric design and laser cutters. Regularly scheduled classes and workshops teach new skills to users of all levels. A membership could be the perfect gift for someone on your list. Personally, we are very excited about the new Punch Card program which gives flexibly of use for a busy person.

You never know what you’ll find at Painted Lady Trashions at the fabulous local art resource, the Rust Belt Market in Ferndale. Are you looking for Ouija board necklaces, vintage gas masks, or a frog skeleton? Their curated curiosity cabinets display a fascinating collection of arty oddities. The Rust Belt is offering extended hours for the next few days; see their website for the details. Not within driving distance? Check out the Etsy Shop.

We’ve written previously about discovering 3DKitbash at the Detroit MakerFaire, and we highly recommend their Boneheads skull kits as well as their printable fashion doll Quin. They’ve added additional 3D printer plans for both lines since we met them, so check out their site. This is a forward-thinking business to keep an eye on. is local business with a webstore that creates jewelry with laser etchings on bone. We liked what we have seen and brought home our own souvenir.

Studio FX 101 in Troy, Michigan is a metro-Detroit maker space that emphasizes design, art, and architecture. The Doktor and I enjoyed one of our weirdest date nights ever making face casts under the skillful tutelage of the workshop leaders. Their offerings also include classes in sculpture and candle making and they sell craft supplies as well. Follow them on Facebook or their website for details on upcoming classes and events.

Books from the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW) make great gifts. They have published seven annual anthologies in the last seven years, which are available for purchase through Amazon, including Erie Tales: Omnibus (Volume 1), Erie Tales: Omnibus (Volume 1) or Erie Tales Myths and Mayhem: Erie Tales VII: Myths and Mayhem. A membership in the group could be a great gift for an aspiring horror writer. GLAHW is a pretty wonderful organization of which we are proud to be members. In addition to supporting and promoting horror writers, GLAHW hosts an annual fundraising party to support local literacy efforts.

Finally, our books make a great gifts for the readers on your list as well. 13 Quick Shivers: from and 22 More Quick Shivers: from the (Volume 2) provide novel reading experiences for lovers of poetry, horror, and typography.

Gift giving is a common transaction that can be imbued with extra meaning when the gift shows the thoughtfulness of the giver in knowing and honoring the recipient. Although the largest gift-giving season of the year is upon us, showing affection or appreciation to a friend or loved one is not tied to the calendar. Keep these extraordinary Weird and Wonderful Gifts in mind for year-round occasions to come.

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A Last Minute Guide to Krampus

krampusIf you are a reader of the, you certainly are aware of our fascination with Krampus. We hold such admiration for Holiday Troll that we have named him #2 on the list of scariest Christmas monsters. We’ve watched with interest as Krampus has become more popular in the US, and yet we know there are still some uninformed among the citizenry who could use a bit of background. Whether you’ve been up in the typical holiday rush or have a lingering suspicion about your place on the “Naughty List,” here’s a collection of resources to help you prepare:

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Krampus on Wikipedia

Krampus Los Angeles

Krampus Detroit

Costume Tips

5th Annual Krampus Ball in Ypsilanti, MI

Make a Krampus Mask— maybe next year?

Has Krampus gotten too commercial?

Krampus t-shirts and more

Krampus events listing

Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t made the most of Krampus this season. Like all good holiday traditions, KrampusNacht will come again next year, and with a little advanced planning, you too can celebrate it to the fullest.

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Flying High at the A2Aviary’s “LiftOff”

AviaryEarlyAt the A2 Aviary Lift Off last weekend, I learned you don’t have to run away to join the circus. The celebration of “Found Family” was half-rent party / half wonderfully weird recital that ran the gamut from trapeze, lyra and silk work to burlesque, belly and butoh dancing. The affair was intimate, with nearly a private speakeasy feel, as attendees crowded the rehearsal space near the Ann Arbor Airport. Fortunately, Elsa had been tipped off to the proceedings at her burlesque lesson with Luna Legare, one of the Aviary’s ringleaders.

The A2Aviary is not your average dance studio, even from first glance. Below a wall of mirrors is foot of industrial strength padding, and suspended from the girders above are long bolts of brightly colored fabric. From the walls, folksy paintings of aviators and astronauts look on encouragingly.

The terrestrial entertainments were hardly mundane. The burlesque was top rate, as to be expected. Gala Delicious was regal, as usual, commanding, nearly aloof in flowing chiffon… that is, until she wore much less. Luna Legare led her “Lunettes” through a routine of joyously enticing tease. Wanna know if you have what it takes to take it off? Try a class starting in January.

A Bit of Butoh

A Bit of Butoh

But you had me at Butoh. Seriously, that disturbingly contemporary style of theatrical movement scratches all my performance-based itches. The piece we saw depicted longing, resentment, personal transformation and awkward cooperation in the brutal, very physical gestures of ashen garbed performers. Wonderment well mixed with WTF.

But the evening really took flight with the aerial performances. Performer after performer soared above the crowd with little more than some fabric, a ring or a bar for support. As expected for a show at a rehearsal space, some of the performers were astounding while others were still learning the pleasures of self-mastery. For the finale, four performers flew simultaneously around the silks.

Okay, Doktor, you might ask, why is this review appearing on an ostensibly “horror” website? Let me count the reasons: fear of public performance, fear of heights, fear of flying not to mention homophobia and the fear of empowered female bodies. Yeah, that’s a thing, I’m sad to say. These performers — our neighbors and friends — confronted such fears much like the heroes on the walls. This is the point of “fitness,” isn’t it, being fit to do something life affirming? Amaze yourself. Lessons start up again in January.

You wanted to fly as a child, didn’t you? What’s stopping you? Thanks to the A2Aviary, you don’t have to run very far to join the circus.

The Grand Finale

The Grand Finale

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Weird and Wonderful Gifts: Jessica Tenbusch’s Bone Metalwork


Jessica Tenbusch makes classy, slightly creepy metalwork that explores death as a creative force. Her Etsy shop was temporarily closed this weekend… likely because she took her one-of-a-kind stock to the DIYpsi Indie Art Fair. Seriously, one of the few things I actually like about the holiday season is the proliferation of such tiny temporary artist markets where I’m able to encounter the work of local artists. The quality of this particular bourse was quite high but my favorite booth here belonged to Jessica Tenbusch, due to both her artistic craft and her subject matter.

For her jewelry, Jessica casts animal bones in precious metals, from tiny mouse vertebrae mounted on stud earrings to possum leg bones as pendants. The scale of these delicate pieces retains the attractive organic feel of their models while avoiding an overly “Hallowe’en” feel. Still, I gotta note the silver pieces would look particularly good with a black dress.


My personal favorite of her wearable memento mori was a necklace where the “beads” were brass vertebrae as thick around as my thumb. It was a solid, commanding piece.

Jessica, a recent graduate of the EMU MFA program, knows many clever ways of coaxing metal into beguiling shapes and the breadth of her skill is more apparent in her sculpture. I got a chance to look a bit closer at two of these pieces.


Jessica Tenbusch — Loon

The first thing I noticed about “Loon” was, of course, the skull but I was drawn in by what appeared to be a black liquid pouring from the eye sockets. This substance was actually hand-worked copper, gracefully shaped to appear fluid. Jessica taught me the word for this technique– repousse. The surface of this darkly patinaed copper, depicted what looked like fish cresting the surface of a lake. The sense I got from this piece was of a bird who had passed beyond this life and who was just able to release the ceaseless search for food which had preoccupied its mortal existence. A farewell to its life-work.


Jessica Tenbusch’ — Ovipositor

Her wall mounted piece, “Ovipositor” featured a different creature, a different life-transition and a different technique — anticlastic raising — which works the metal from both sides to create graceful spirals. A wasp centrally placed in what read as a resin nest is posed in between two shiny copper corkscrews that, to me, recalled the creature’s sting. The lower curl gently unravels to reveal a string of pearls, the eggs of the title. This piece seemed a nearly wry commentary on the pain and travail associated with sex and procreation. I am possibly reading too much into these pieces, but the joy of art is the continuing play and reflection they spark.

Any reader here knows I am a great fan of bones, those remarkable sculptures we carry around inside us. They are extremely functional, quite beautiful and too often overlooked. What I appreciate about Jessica Tenbusch’s work is how she references such organic shapes while using durable materials, thus transforming these transient bits of our hidden, mortal lives into pieces that are solid, permanent and worthy of reflection.

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Learning to Tease with Luna Legare


Last Tuesday in the basement of Bona Sera, Ypsilanti, local burlesque star Luna Legare taught me a thing or two about stripping in public. Sure, there were shimmery gloves, sparkly costumes, and dance music, but lessons of the new burlesque are more focused on the power of directing attention with a look and a smile and about being in control of what and when you chose to reveal.

At the “Tuesday Tease with Luna Legare,” beginners and novices mixed with experienced dancers like Cruel Valentine, Kitt Y. Bourree, and Felina Mistemper. I purchased a pair of classic black evening gloves, which were stretchy and sexy and fun to wear, and helped me look the part.

We limbered up with some stretches, much like any other exercise class, although with an emphasis on graceful movement. Then Luna led us through some basic showgirl poses, which are a bit like ballet positions. Luna also demonstrated the many alluring methods to take off gloves. The classic one-finger-at-a-time technique, then supplemented with a spread hand builds tension and excitement, but there are other options. Teeth can be used to bite the tips, but bare them to prevent lipstick stains. As we became acquainted with a few simple steps, Luna played tracks to get everyone in the mood.

After practicing our dance moves, we watched some more experienced performers. Luna and a couple students from Ann Arbor Aviary (where Ms Legare regularly teaches 7 week long burlesque classes) rehearsed the routine they will perform at next Saturday’s showcase event. We also had a chance to watch a dancer do a try-out performance for a burlesque competition which was taped for submission to the show.

This was the second low-stakes, drop-in class that Ms Legare has taught at Bona Sera, and future events are scheduled for the second Tuesday of the coming months. I was a little nervous to start, but the class had a good sense of camaraderie and friendliness. Burlesque has a body-positive, gay-positive, woman-positive vibe, and I felt very welcome. I thanked Luna as I left, and she said she hoped I’d come back next time and to bring a few girlfriends. If you are interested, let me know. And don’t forget your gloves.

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Raw Dog Screaming Writers’ Retreat

Sunset at RDSP Retreat

Sunset at RDSP Retreat

Did you hear the one about the thirteen horror writers who gather at a secluded lodge, one with no cel phone reception deep in the wilds of Ohio, for a rainy weekend of word-smithing, camaraderie… and MURDER? Though perhaps a bit light on actual murder, this description fits the Raw Dog Screaming Press Writer’s Retreat. Elsa and I knew we had to crash the proceedings, especially after receiving the recent haul of books from this quality publisher of strange literature.
Our trek to the Bourbon Ridge Retreat was itself a writing prompt. Elsa’s cell phone got us to end of the highway before reception cut out completely. We had to resort to printed instructions, ones made difficult to read by the encroaching nightfall. A gentle fog rolled in on cue as we drove winding roads with whimsical names like “Clay Lick” and “Honey Goat Run.” The stray rays of our headlights illuminated signposts to ominously wholesome diversions, the wreckage of ancient barns, and the glowing eyes of creatures we took to be deer but perhaps were, in fact, these legendary “honey goats.” At one point, our car was pointed down a steep, weed-shrouded drive, nose to nose with a hand lettered sign “Posted: Absolutely NO Trespassers.” I wanted to take a photo but Elsa spun wheels in reverse. Eventually, we found the luxurious lodge and a warm welcome.
This is where I wrote my morning pages, suckers.

This is where I wrote my morning pages, suckers.

Raw Dog Screaming Press publishes high quality work across many genres, taking delight especially in works that cross and confound genre expectations. From some of the best bizarro to horror poetry to hyper-real dark literary and beyond, RDSP produces lovely volumes of great writing. The retreat was a similarly high-class affair. The Bourbon Ridge Retreat was a perfect location. The hilltop location afforded remarkable views of the region. You know that part of Ohio flattened with turnpikes and deadened by national chains? Hocking is NOT that part. The area screamed “local color.” The facilities were luxurious with just the slightest sense of “rustic” given by the knotty pine interiors and tasteful country-style decorations. Writers enjoyed a night-time dip in the hot tub. Very comfortable lounging space was generously arranged on all three floors, from the Great Room where I wrote my morning pages, to the intimate third floor alcove where I chatted with editor Jennifer Barnes to the lower floor’s high-end rec room where we staged an impromptu reading on Saturday night. Rumor has it, others played an epic late-night game of Cards Against Humanity there as well. Elsa and I were grateful that RDSP opened this event up to serious writers not currently on their roster.
As befits a “writer’s retreat,” the weekend was both productive as well as relaxing. Folks ducked off to the lodge’s many comfortable nooks to hammer out a draft or complete line edits, before cycling back to the nearly non-stop conversation that took place around the massive dining table. These discussions were the typical writerly chit-chat of networking news peppered with professional gossip, restaurant reviews and commentary on don’t-miss TV shows. Food and drink also appeared on this table almost constantly.
Delicious Surgery on a Skull Pie

Delicious Surgery on a Skull Pie

Elsa brought a selection of Skull Pies and I raided the cellar to bring a dozen bottles of my weirdest home-brewed mead. Jessica McHugh concocted a killer cocktail, a “Dark and Bubbly,” by blending my “Hearts of Darkness” black currant mead with champagne. Stephanie Wytovich brought conjoined twin gingerbread cookies… and aroused my suspicions by laughing far too heartily and frequently for a horror poet — do not be decieved: a dark soul lurks deep beneath that bubbly exterior. The words I shared with Kealan Patrick Burke were, for me personally, a highlight of the retreat. Though I knew nothing of his work before this weekend, he struck me as both charming and intense, quite possible possessed of true genius. I simply have to grab a copy of “The Tent,” his novella set in these captivating hills. Horror writers sometimes project a dark persona but everyone here was a delight to meet, face to face.
Two heads are tastier than one

Two heads are tastier than one

All too quickly, the weekend was over. After a photo on the steps, Elsa and I departed amid hugs and promises to meet again at World Horror Con or another regional convention. Our deepest thanks to Raw Dog Screaming Press for arranging this retreat.
If you have the opportunity to hide out in the woods with fellow writers, even writers who obsess with death and torture, madness and monsters, don’t be afraid. We save our worst for our writing.

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Weird and Wonderful Gifts: Cyberoptix Tie Lab


Which one of these flashy hand-screened ties from Cyberoptix Tie Lab did the Doktor purchase? The photo does not clearly display all the details, so let me point out some of the features. Ties from Cyberoptix are quality products with striking graphics that aren’t merely licensed merchandise carbon copy graphics. Cyberoptix ties come in three different widths, which suit different body types, and also different lengths, which are good for wearers of different heights but also for great for different knot styles. Cyberoptix makes leather and silk ties as well as microfiber ties which sport the luxurious feel of silk and the luster of silk.

Cyberoptix Tie Lab is a Detroit-based business that designs and manufactures fantastic hand-screened neckties as well as bow ties, pocket squares, ascots and scarves. Their designs are fresh and innovative: check out the Milky Way Light Pashima, the industrial felt bow ties, or the Cass Tech Blueprint ties. Their website is a navigational treat, allowing exploration by materials or design. I was interested in their wedding line and the possibility of dressing one’s groomsmen in original, color-coordinated neck ware; we have no such upcoming events scheduled, and yet, what fun!

gasmask01wCyberoptix has an Etsy shop for those who live far and wide and a shop at the Rust Belt Market in Ferndale for those near Metro Detroit. You can also follow them on Facebook to keep up with the latest news.

If you are wondering, the Doktor selected the red tie on the left-side of the display above, the one with the vintage gas mask design. When he wore it with his blue sharkskin tux, someone inquired, “Who is that on that tie?”, the Doktor replied, “Exactly.” It’s a lovely tie that suits him well: it’s stylish, original, well-made, and eye-catching. Just like him.

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Weird and Wonderful Gifts: Bird Skull Jewelry

Bird skulls, with their arched beaks and wide eyes, are wicked cool artifacts and also are the perfect size for jewelry. A pendant made of, say, a raven skull is a striking accessory to both an elegant goth wardrobe as well as a tribal shamanic get-up. Trouble is, the Migratory Bird Act makes the possession of many bird parts a major offense — including those from the Corvus family (ravens, crows…) What to give that dark soul whose spirit creature is a crow? A 3-D printed crow skull pendant, of course.

I can personally recommend two jewelry-quality producers of 3-D metal skulls: Sheila Munro’s Filigree Raven Skull (available through Shapeways) and Fire and

Sheila Munro (Dropping Form Design) Filligree Raven Skull available through

Sheila Munro (Dropping Form Design) Filligree Raven Skull available through

Sheila Munro’s Filagree Raven Skull enhances the sleek form of a Corvus skull by adding an elegant tracery of curving lines to the surface. Since 3-D printing builds up an object speck by speck, it’s not the ideal process for making solid chunks of mass but this clever design takes great advantage of the intricacy that is possible with this process. I got one of these beauties a couple years ago for a neo-pagan shaman friend and when he opened the box, his eyes nearly bugged out. This pendant radiates awesomeness from its potent design to the heft of polished metal. That’s right, this 3-D printed skull came in bronzed steel.

Many homestyle 3-D printers can only produce plastic objects but Shapeways — a full service, on-line 3-D printing service bureau and marketplace — can output objects in a wide range of materials, including bronze, ceramic, sandstone and stainless steel. The site displays the work of hundreds of designers — Sheila Munro’s Dropping Form Designs studio has dozens of other designs — but I can vouch for both the quality of the Shapeways service as well as the eye popping coolness of the Filigree Raven Skull. The price is really quite reasonable, too. The design is available in other sizes — I suspect the Extra-Large size in sandstone would be a remarkable paperweight.

Fire and's Crow skull in White Bronze

Fire and’s Crow skull in White Bronze

Fire and Bone take a hybrid approach to digitally assisted manufacturing. They meticulously scan an actual skull and clean up the computer model, but instead of 3-D printing their full run, Fire and Bone use traditional, lost-wax casting to make their intricate creations. I got in on two of their Kickstarter campaigns and thus have an American Black Bear and a Gray Wolf skull. (Dig it, the jaws on these two skulls actually work!) Fire and Bone also make a very noble crow skull, available in bronze as well as in sterling silver. (Oops, it appears the silver version is sold out at the moment.) The skulls can also come with a display base. My Bear skull, for instance, sits atop my dresser on such a base so I can enjoy it even when I’m not wearing it.

Both Fire and Bone and Sheila Munro’s pieces are “cruelty-free” and made of durable metal. Their designs are both delicate and handsome, primal and refined. Bird skull jewelry is likely the perfect gift for someone you know or if you read the Dailynightmare, possibly a treat for yourself.

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Weird and Wonderful Gifts: MONSTER expansion perfects “Ticket to Ride”

IMG_4099My son is a game-nerd and a bit of his zeal has rubbed off on me. But where William geeks out over rule-set elegance and game re-playability, I am truly a sucker for nifty game pieces and beautiful boards. And monsters. A game without a monster just isn’t much of a game.

That’s why I am so pleased with the Alvin And Dexter expansion to the classic game Ticket to Ride. I can’t believe TtR already celebrating it’s 10th anniversary, but if you haven’t yet played it, Ticket To Ride is a fun tabletop game where players compete to build cross-country rail lines. It has a great board and especially cool train car game pieces. But until this expansion, there were no monsters.

Alvin is a blaster-toting space alien and Dexter is a voracious giant lizard. The pieces for these non-player characters are beautifully sculpted and cast in beige resin that shows off their detail. I bought the expansion purely because I loved the figures, but when I realized what these critters bring to the game, I believe I could convince my son that the purchase was essential. In the stock version of Ticket to Ride, the competitive element is rather subdued. Sure, a player could block a key segment of rail when it becomes evident that a competitor is building a connecting route, but the game is woefully good natured. Alvin and Dexter shake things up on a much grander scale. I might be expecting too much from the monsters, but they seem to me to be the very best type of game expansion, the one that reimagines both the game and the strategies needed to win, which can be like playing a brand new game.

Games are perennially popular gifts because the best ones can give a family or group of friends hours of fun together. I’m excited to share this gift with William, so we can enjoy some fresh game play together. And maybe this time I’ll win. IMG_4094

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