Category Archives: Featured Articles


The Sharp Knife Of A Short Life – Remembering My Cousin Emily

We all sat around the table in my grandmother’s kitchen, talking.  So many of my family’s roads lead to my grandparents’ kitchen.  The children were in the living room playing loudly, my father watching over them with a protective eye.  Over plastic plates filled with chicken, beans, slaw, and more, we swapped stories – sometimes laughing, sometimes smiling.  It was a familiar moment there at table, shared by us countless times over the years.  But this time was different.  This time, we were sharing stories about my cousin Emily.  She had just turned 31 a few weeks earlier and that afternoon we had buried her.


My mom had called to tell me Emily had been taken to the hospital on Saturday night, the 14th.  That Sunday, the 15th, was her 31st birthday.  I learned that her liver had failed and she had been put in a medically induced coma.  Her brain began to swell and she eventually developed an infection in her lungs.  Any one of those conditions alone would have been daunting, but taken together – well, the outlook wasn’t good.    



American Idol: Season 11, Episode 3 – “I can’t wait to hear 40 people sing the same Adele song, for six f-ing hours!”

The third audition episode for Season 11 of American Idol found the judges in San Diego.  The producers decided to go for huge production value and placed the entire production on the aircraft carrier USS Midway.  Cool right?  Well, it looked cool – they even played the prerequisite musical clips from “Top Gun”. (Who would have seen that coming?  Anyone?  Anyone? Buehler?)   There was just one teensy-weensy problem – the USS Midway is docked in an active harbor close to the airport.  Plane noise?  Check.  Boat noise?  Check?  Wind?  Check.  All in all it made for a different vibe and as a bonus, gave Steven a chance to wear a ridiculous pair of green aviator goggles.   But what about the Idol hopefuls, you ask.  How did the singers fare on the evening?  Have no fear – read on and get the entire scoop…


American Idol: Season 11, Episode 2 – The Unfortunate Planking Incident

The second night of our 2012 journey with Idol found us in the city of Pittsburgh.  That’s right, Pittsburgh.  We were welcomed to the “City of Champions” by a guy with a size 58 beer-belly wearing a size 28 shirt.  (And by the way, it looked like he was there to audition.  If he’s 28 or younger, I’m Captain Caveman.)  With the bar set that low, I had to wonder what sort of talent Pittsburgh would bring to the table.


First up was Heejun Han.  To say that he presented himself in an underwhelming manner would be an understatement.  As he talked to Ryan I wasn’t sure if he had been sniffing glue or was just roused from his midday nap to attend the auditions.  Dude was strange.  To top it off, his family told Ryan they had never heard him sing.  My thought was – “they’re probably the lucky ones.”  But then he walked in the audition room and started singing.  You would think by now I would know not to judge a book by its cover.  Turns out dude was strange – but dude could sing.  Three quick yeses and he was on his way.  (By the way – he also had one of the strangest, and yet coolest, “I’m going to Hollywood” moments ever…)



American Idol: Season 11, Episode 1 – “The best note you hit was when you grabbed my @ss.”

It’s that time of year again – American Idol Season 11 is upon us.  Randy is back, Jennifer is back, Steven is back, Ryan is back, and I am back.  Well, I hope I’m back.  I’ll warn you all now, faithful readers – I’m traveling a LOT for work right now.  It’s going to be tough for me to keep up the commentary in real time (this recap of the premiere is almost a week late, for example.)  Nevertheless, I’ll endeavor to do my best to bring you the snarky and insightful commentary you’ve come to expect from me.  Just be patient – it may come a little slower than you would like.


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in.  The Idol premier came to us from Savannah, GA this year.  (When asked about how this stop was treating him, Steven quipped – “Savannah’s treatin’ me great – but I didn’t know you knew her…”) The theme of the show was all about the young kids who grew up watching Idol and are now old enough to audition.  Thanks for making me feel old. 


David Leathers Jr. (or  “Mr. Steal-Your-Girl”) was up first.  My first thought was – this kid is seventeen?  He looked like he was twelve.  In the first of many flashbacks to their contestants’ earlier years, we found out that David was evidently in a competition a few years ago with Scotty McCreary.  Small world, or at least it looks that way when you have millions of audition stories to choose from.  Let me say this about “Mr. Steal-Your-Girl”, he may have a voice that sounds vaguely like a chipmunk, but the kid can sing.  I wonder if he’ll still be able to sing like that when he hits puberty?


A few thoughts on the 3D release of “Star Wars: Episode 1″

In case you haven’t heard, “Star Wars: Episode 1″ is being released in theaters in 3D on February 10th.  A few facts to note:


1. I am a huge Star Wars fan.

2. Seeing movies on the big screen is almost always better than watching them at home.

3. 3D can be very cool if done correctly.  ILM usually does things correctly.

4. Notwithstanding point #3 above, I fully expect Jar-Jar to be even MORE annoying in 3D.

5.  My son has never seen the Star Wars films in the theater.  We will now be able to rectify that situation.

 6.  I’ll now have even more Star Wars posters to hang in the house.  My wife will LOVE that.


Speaking of posters, Lucasfilm has posted five new posters for the 3D release of Episode One.  Check them out after the jump…



Review – “The Devil Colony” by James Rollins

What do you get when you mix nanotechnology, Thomas Jefferson, the lost tribe of Israel, super volcanoes, Lewis and Clark, killer whales, Fort Knox, American Indian artifacts, secret codes, and Mormonism?  You get the latest Sigma Force novel from James Rollins – “The Lost Colony”.  You also get a quite enjoyable read.



My 2012 “To Do” List

Here I sit, on January 1st, and find myself again thinking about what I want to accomplish in the New Year.  2011 was a year of great change, great excitement, and great stress – but all in all, it was a pretty good ride.  When I sat in this chair on January 1st last year, I put together a list of 15 things I wanted to accomplish in 2011 (you can read it here.)  I didn’t get to them all, but I’m proud to say I was able to cross 10 of them off the list.  In particular, I’m proud to say that I lost a total of 65 pounds last year, was able to do another interview with a NY Times Best Selling author, saw Rock of Ages twice more (both with Constantine), and tried my best to be a better father, husband, brother, and son.


So what does that leave for 2012?  I’m glad you asked.  It’s going to be another exciting year (I hope), as long as those pesky Mayans are wrong.  I have lots more change coming my way, but also have lots more opportunity to try new things and embark on new adventures.  Just as last year, I’m going to put it all out there and trust you to hold me accountable for my success or failure.  Who knows, I might even remember to give a mid-year update this year.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. So, without further adieu, here’s my list for 2012.



Turn it up to 11 – My favorite books of 2011

Well, 2011 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been.  Given that it’s New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t let the year slip into the past without sharing my top books of 2011 with you all.  Just like last year, I couldn’t constrain myself to just ten books – so I decided to go with the flow and give you my top eleven again.  It’s a diverse group of titles, with some familiar names and some newcomers as well.  We have frustrated punk wannabes, kidnap victims, Jesus and Judas, allegories for the dangers of world government, time travel, video games, ancient China, worldwide conspiracies, and – of course – zombies.  Enjoy!


11. “alt.punk” by Lavinia Ludlow

This is the book that surprised me most this year.  A disturbing and insightful exploration of the underside of relationships and personal awareness, my first reaction was -  “The story didn’t so much end as it simply bled out, lying in a pool of it’s own vomit on the cheap linoleum bathroom floor of a mobile home.”  But, as I let it marinate, I realized it would have been a gross disservice to the book to leave that as my final word.  They story stayed with me, and that says a lot. Ludlow has a raw voice that deserves to be heard.  (full review)


10. “Six Days” by Kelli Owen

“Six Days” was part of the inaugural trio of books released from Maelstrom Books.  There’s good reason Brian Keene chose to include Owen’s debut novel in the release.  It’s a gripping story that finds us trapped in a dark basement with Jenny Schultz.  With no further explanation, the narrative unfolds as Jenny struggles to figure out just what is going on.  It’s a smart move on Owen’s part and serves to create a claustrophobic cocktail of unease and uncertainty.  In today’s world of omnipotent narrators and worn out horror clichés, it’s refreshing in a very Chianti and fava beans sort of way. (full review)


9. “The Breach” by Patrick Lee

One of the most engrossing and original stories I’ve read.  From the moment Travis Chase stumbles across a downed 747 in the Alaskan wilderness containing the body of the first lady, to the final twists delivered in the book’s closing pages; this is a story that will not let you go.  Lee deftly weaves sci-fi with political intrigue and straight-up action in this thinking man’s thriller.  More than once I found myself caught flat-footed by a surprise turn, and the story hid its final secrets from me until the very end.  That’s worth the price of admission to me.


8. “30 Pieces of Silver” by Carolyn McCray

I discovered this book on Twitter via recommendation from author James Rollins.  What a great find.  A thought provoking and, to some, controversial take on the Religious Fiction genre, “30 Pieces of Silver” runs two concurrent stories – one detailing the relationship between Jesus and Judas and one taking you on a modern day quest to find Jesus’ bones.  The story is cinematic both in its ambition and execution.  It also has one of the most shocking and unexpected endings I’ve read in a very long time.  I can’t wait for the sequel.   (As a side note, “30 Pieces of Silver” is the second most widely read review on The Word Zombie.  Stay tuned for number one…) (full review)


7. “The Undertakers: Rise of the Corpses” by Ty Drago

This is the first young-adult Zombie I’ve read – and it’s a good one. Combining elements of “They Live”, “Percy Jackson”, and Brian Keene’s “The Rising” – it all comes together to give a fresh take on the zombie genre.  A group of kids is pulled together by their ability to see the “Corpses” – undead invaders that appear as normal people to most.  As they fight against potential invasion, Drago draws some subtle parallels between their struggle and the struggles we all face when crossing over from child to young adult.  I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series out in 2012.  (full review)


6. “Under Heaven” by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay continues to raise the bar in historical fantasy literature.  A hauntingly beautiful and lushly realized society, based on Tang Dynasty China, forms the backdrop for this tale. Shen Tai has spent the last two years honoring his dead father by burying the unremembered dead from the last Great War between empires.  Presented with a gift of unimaginable value by his people’s enemies, Shen Tai is set on a course that intersects love and duty in the realm of emperors.  Epic in scope and lyrical in delivery, “Under Heaven” is yet another jewel in Gavriel Kay’s crown.


5. “Deadline” by Mira Grant

“Deadline” is the second installment in Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy.  With the first book, “Feed”, Mira Grant established herself as a major new voice in zombie fiction.  With “Deadline”, she proves that “zombie” is a superfluous addition to that accolade.  Here she weaves a tale about government overreach, the value of truth, and the dangers of trading liberty for safety.  It’s a deeply layered and thought provoking exercise where the story comes first, the zombies second.  The zombies are merely the symptom of the disease, the result of the action, the recoil of the gun. Do yourself a favor – read this book. (full review)


4. “11/22/63” by Stephen King

“11/22/63” is one of the best books from Stephen King in years.  On its surface, it’s a story about time travel and one man’s journey to try and prevent the assassination of JFK.  It’s a look at early 60’s America – both the idyllic small town life of nostalgia and the turbulent political maelstrom of the newswires.   More than all of that, it’s a story about the choices we make, the paths we take, and the true value of love.  A special thanks goes to King’s son, Joe Hill, who – according to the afterword – suggested the emotionally resonate ending for the story.      


3. “Forbidden” by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

“Forbidden” is set in a world where almost all emotions have been genetically repressed, only fear remains – fear that is used by the government to keep the population under control.  It’s a compelling meditation on the dangers of centralized world government.  It explores the idea that – while human feelings and passions are messy, and people have a capacity for both good and evil – the alternative to that chaotic swirl of emotions is an antiseptic and bleak existence.  Like “Deadline”, this book will force you to consider what it really means to sacrifice freedom for security – even if that freedom is just the freedom to feel.  (full review)


2. “Full Black” by Brad Thor

At times nuanced and at other times blunt, Thor pulls no punches in deconstructing the broader adversaries aligned against us in the world today in “Full Black”. It’s a story about layers, and serves to lay the foundation for the continued evolution of both Thor as a storyteller and Scot Harvath as a character. Not a simple “stop the plot, save the world” story, “Full Black” is instead an intelligent examination of current events and a wake-up call for free thinking people everywhere. It may only be fiction, but it’s a book you should read.  Consider it an alarm clock.  We’ve hit the snooze button one too many times already.  It’s time to wake up. (“Full Black” is the most widely read review on The Word Zombie. Thanks Brad!) (full review)


1.     “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

In my review of “Ready Player One”, I wrote – It may only be August, but I feel certain I’ve just read my favorite book of 2011.”  I was right.  Wade Watts is one of millions consumed with the virtual reality world of OASIS.  When its creator dies, he sets in motion an epic quest to unlock the secrets of the system.  The story is a love letter to all things pop culture from the 80’s – and it’s great fun.  It’s hard to imagine a book being more perfect for me.  It drew me in from the first chapter and whisked me along on a trip down memory lane.  So much of my childhood is represented in this book; it felt like putting on a comfortable pair of old blue jeans.  I realized about half way through that this is the book my 13 year-old self didn’t know he was preparing my 40 year-old self to love.  No doubt about it – best book of the year. (full review)


So there you have it – my 11 favorite books of the year.  Did I leave something off?  Disagree with the order I have them in?  Anything you think I need to read next year that will make the list?  I would love to know what you think.   Until then – Happy New year!



Reflections on Christmas: The Best Of Who We Are

Sitting there on Christmas night, listening to carols by the light of the tree, I kept telling myself I should get up and go to bed.  It was after 2:00AM and it had been a long day.  The thing was – it had been a great Christmas and I really didn’t want it to end.  It’s curious, that – finding moments in time and wishing they could last forever; holding on to the assurance of “now” and avoiding the uncertainty of “later”.  I really didn’t want Christmas to end this year.  “Maybe just one more song…”


This was probably the last year my son will believe in Santa Claus.  Truth be told, I think he may have figured it out already, but I can’t be sure.  Knowing this was likely the last year he would truly see Christmas through a child’s eyes, I couldn’t help but be a little melancholy.  Christmas will still be special – but something will never be the same for him after this year.  A piece of his youth will pass away into memory, and he’ll never be able to quite recapture that feeling again. 


Hold On To The Nights

Have you ever had one of those moments when a song comes on the radio and, in an instant, you find yourself in another time and another place?  Just a few seconds of music and you begin to relive a fragment of your past with perfect clarity?  The sights, the sounds, the smells – everything comes rushing back to you?


I had one of those moments last week while on my way to the airport to catch a flight.  As I came barreling into the parking lot, “Hold On To The Nights” by Richard Marx came on the radio – and just like that, I was back in high school.  It was a moment that took me by surprise with its suddenness and intensity – and it brought my mad dash to the airport to a screeching halt.   

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