frankenstein behind the scenes

Last Halloween, I’d asked a few Nervous Breakdown contributors to share their favorite terrifying movie scenes, and D. R. Haney was among them with his contribution from Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I, on the other hand, had picked the tunnel scene from Willy Wonka, which I explain so you understand why I like collaborating with Duke. My brain grows three sizes bigger by association. He’s like a cinematic moral compass for which true north is James Dean. And this year for Halloween, Duke and I decided to discuss the classic tale that produced another old-school Hollywood icon.

trailer 2

My father’s farm in Virginia is called Oak Hill. When he bought it, not long after he divorced my mother, there was in fact a cluster of enormous oak trees that shaded a white clapboard, nineteenth-century house that stood on the hill in the center of the farm, but the house burned down before my father could move into it. Some of the oaks survived the fire, which occurred on a Halloween night, but despite whispers that the previous owner had torched the house, no charges were ever filed. I remember surveying the charred remains and spotting, not charred even slightly, an old board game called Why, the Alfred Hitchock Mystery Game, which, according to the blurb on the box, involved “real thinking, planning, and memory.” I took the game home with me—I lived a twenty-minute drive from the farm with my mother, brother, and sister—but I never played it, and don’t know what became of it. Maybe my memory wouldn’t be so faulty if I had better developed it by playing Why.

It was around 9:30 P.M., and I was waiting for the bus in Hollywood after being momentarily paroled from my job as a so-called telefundraiser. When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I stood a chance of being hired at that company or any other, having been out of the mainstream work force for the majority of my adult life, which I’ve spent eking out a living as an actor and screenwriter. The entertainment business used to be said to be recession-proof, but if that was ever true in the past, it’s true no longer; the minute the economy went to hell four years ago, I received fewer and fewer offers of acting and screenwriting jobs, until finally I received none at all. Even production-assistant jobs were, in my case anyway, scarce, though I did manage to PA for a couple of days on a teenage space musical financed by NASA, as well as on a Disney Channel spot in which Miley Cyrus was interviewed alongside her achy-breaky father to mark the end of Hannah Montana.

While I’d taken it upon myself to pick some horrific non-horror films a few Halloweens ago (Guillermo del Toro’s eyes-in-the-hands guy, you’re always on my mind), this year I was interested to know what my fellow TNB contributors might say were the most terrifying movie scenes they’ve endured to date. Below, if you dare to read on, you’ll find those iconic dead-eyed twins, bad hell-spawn hair, an unfathomable choice, and more, but first I’ll get this party started with Willy Wonka’s boat ride from the 1971 Mel Stuart film.  Most of my phobias can be traced back to these two manic minutes in the tunnel:

I never thought I looked like James Dean, as people used to say I did, especially after I moved to New York to study acting. We shared the same coloring, but I was tall and lanky, while he was short and muscular. My face was round, and his was rectangular. Moreover, I strove as an actor to be as natural as possible, and Dean’s acting struck me as excessive, which is now what I most enjoy about it. His excess wasn’t of the soap-opera sort; it was quirkily personal, as when he rolls a cold bottle of milk over his brow to calm himself in Rebel Without a Cause. His character in Rebel is lacking the love—that is, milk—of his shrewish mother, and the symbolic way it’s expressed is one of many Kabuki-like gestures in Dean’s performances, particularly in scenes involving parents. His biography speaks to the reason. His mother died when he was nine, and afterward his father sent him to live on a relative’s farm in far-away Indiana.

1. Both Charlie’s Angels and the Manson girls were guided by mysterious older men named—you know.

2. Charles Townsend, a.k.a. Charlie of Charlie’s Angels, was a de-facto pimp with an apparent harem of young women other than his trio of gun-wielding detectives; Charlie Manson, a.k.a. Jesus Christ, was a convicted pimp with a documented harem of young women other than his trio of knife-wielding assassins.

3. Charlie’s Angels were observed communicating with Charles Townsend via the telephone; Charlie Manson was said to communicate with his girls via telepathy.

4. In the field, as it were, Charlie’s Angels worked alongside Charles Townsend’s male proxy, an ostensible eunuch named Bosley; the Manson girls, in the field, worked alongside Manson’s male proxy, Tex Watson, who, though not a eunuch, strikingly favored the eunuchlike Mr. Spock.

I meant to write a comment on D. R. Haney’s post “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” from the day that I read it nearly three months ago. I wanted to compliment the writing. Praise the unrushed development of the ideas. Express the jealousy I felt as Duke explained what particular movies had meant to his developing sense of identity. There was no repertory theater within a hundred mile radius of where I grew up, and the flicks that hit the two screens in our small town in the 1980s were at very best of dubious merit. Never mind Shampoo and Taxi Driver. Halloween 3 would come and sit in the theater for weeks, without Halloween 1 ever having been there. Duke’s piece made me wish that hadn’t been the case, and that I had developed an interest in film, which I never really did.

This is a response to D.R. Haney’s essay, “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.” I’m including it here, so as not to leave a thousand-word comment.

American film, generally, has devolved into the stuff of teenage fantasy, as Duke suggests. This is irrefutable. We might even say the industry has, ahem, transformed. We go to the movies now to watch stuff blow up, to witness orcs battling halflings, to behold wizards-in-training cavort around on broom handles, to marvel at comics come to life. I indulge in this pleasure myself, from time to time. I enjoyed Iron Man — more for Robert Downey’s suave performance than anything else, but still. And yes, these movies are devoid of sex. The closest we get to carnality in these blockbusters is Megan Fox running among the robots-cum-Dodge Durangos.

So we’ve found ourselves in possession of this wonderful photograph, taken by Heather D’Augustine:



We think this is a great image to use to promote D. R. Haney’s Subversia, the maiden TNB Book, because, and I’m pretty sure Don Draper mentioned this in his pitch to the folks at London Fog, and even Peggy Olsen would agree, if you can build your ad campaign around either a photo of an infirm dude in a hospital bed or a photo of a woman’s pretty legs, you go with the legs.

The only problem is, we can’t seem to come up with a decent tagline.  So we figured, hey, Milo’s limerick contest went pretty well, and everyone digs that cartoon caption contest on the back page of The New Yorker (I actually can’t stand that contest, but whatever)– why don’t we do the same thing?

So here it is: Think of a good tagline for the picture.  Post it in the comments section below.  Enter as often as you like.

The criteria, naturally, is something that will make a visitor to the site want to click on the slide and buy the book. It doesn’t have to be the funniest or the sexiest or anything other than, simply, terrific ad copy.

The contest closes at the stroke of midnight, PST, on Monday, December 27. The winner receives a signed copy of Subversia, plus a personal note from the author…and the honor of having bested the best minds of the TNB Universe.

Thanks, folks.  Now go make Don Draper proud (and Duke happy).


It has come to my attention, and perhaps yours as well, that virtually everyone in the digital age considers him- or herself an artist. A glance at Facebook is like a trek through the Casbah, with so many people hawking their photos, their music, their writings, and so on.

How can a seasoned artist make a buck in such a climate? It was never easy, and it’s getting harder all the time, as the competition expands. Soon aspiring creative types will outnumber regular folk, who can only spend but so much money on things that—let’s face it—are almost always headed for permanent obscurity. Then, too, a lot of “artists” give their stuff away for free, leading audiences to think all creative output should be free, unless, for instance, it’s written by Jonathan Franzen, whose wealth must approach Illuminati levels if he charges by the metaphor.


What have we learned about D. R. HANEY?


Well, he likes to talk.  Even to himself.


The protagonist of Banned for Life is not the only character he’s written named Jason.


He’s an actor.  But unlike most actors, he’s not afraid to tell you what he really thinks about Johnny Depp.


He’s also a model.  For porn.  Child porn.


Sometimes his mind goes to dark places; he’s only human, after all.


He resisted the urge to commit murder.


He’s fascinated by Charles Manson.  Also punk rock.


And he’s the author of the first TNB Book, Subversia, a collection of his pieces on these pages, plus some great new material.  Buy it.  Read it.  Then, talk about it here.



kurt suicide scene

A despairing friend called late one night to say that he was looking at a photo of himself as a toddler holding his father’s rifle.

“I have an appointment with that rifle,” he told me. “I’ve always known I was going to end my life with it.”

He’s fine now, thank God, but his remark brought to mind a journal entry I made as a teenager, in which I said that I was sure I was going to kill myself one day; it was only a matter of how and when.

Last spring, shortly after my novel, Banned for Life, was published, my actor friend Jeremy Lowe sent me this photo via Facebook.


JE: D.R. “Duke” Haney’s Banned for Life is a great sprawling coming-of-age, with all the pitch and velocity of a punk rock adolescence. Banned is also, along with Hesh Kestin’s The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, the most “lived in” novel I read last year, and one of the most under-read, in my estimation. Here’s Duke on the books he first fell in love with:

My family has been in Virginia since the seventeenth century, and many in my line were farmers, including my grandparents on both sides. I was especially close to my maternal grandparents, and spent a lot of time on their dairy farm, which my grandfather designated Grand View after the land and the house on it were passed to him by his mother, Della, whose mean streak was legendarily Medusa-like. The mean streak was not unjustified. Della’s husband, Hugh, was a circuit rider—that is, a traveling preacher who spread the Gospel on horseback—whose later, untreatable madness may have been triggered by the sudden death of their young daughter, Sara. Another shock was the murder, by a jealous ex, of my beloved Great-Aunt Nicie’s intended as he left the house one night.

The house, which sits at the crest of a hill that does indeed afford a grand view, already had a painful history. It was built in the 1830s by slaves owned by the prosaically-named Cowherd family (Della and Hugh acquired the property at the turn of the twentieth century), and during the Civil War, there was a skirmish between Yanks and Rebs at the foot of the hill, with part of the house razed by cannonfire. My Great-Great-Uncle Billy, uninvolved in that fight, was an officer in the Confederate Army, and buried in uniform, as per his request on his old-age deathbed. He strongly resembled Robert E. Lee in the only photo I saw of him: white-bearded and stately atop a white steed, his riding coat looking Confederate gray in the sepia-toned photo.

This is all to say that family lore uniquely prepared me for the novels of William Faulkner, with Grand View filling in for many of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County settings. There was, for instance, a gray-wood shack next to the chicken yard, where I pictured Joanna Burden of Light in August living as a pariah. There was a smokehouse, sweetly smelling of sultry ham, in the back yard, where I pictured Ringo and Bayard of The Unvanquished playing war. As for the late-night fight of Absalom, Absalom!, I transposed that to my grandfather’s former horse stable—“former” because he renounced horses after he was forced to put down an injured favorite. Of all of Faulkner’s books, Absalom, Absalom! has for me special resonance, since I read it at Grand View during a summer retreat from New York. Then, too, it solidified my love of paragraph-long sentences and pages-long paragraphs.

But my love for Faulkner began with our introduction, The Sound and The Fury, which he wrote under the influence of Joyce, and so fused stream-of-consciousness modernism with Hawthornian Gothic. It was, I think, the most ambitious novel I’d read to date (I was twenty), and I naturally saw it taking place at Grand View, with Caddy Compson, whose soiled underpants so jolted her three damaged brothers, climbing the mimosa tree that, as a child, I used to climb.

Faulkner spent his final years as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia, and his grandsons owned a bar in my hometown. Once, when I was at the bar with my father, the owners both appeared, one of them a dead ringer for Faulkner in his thirties, and I had an impulse to walk up to him and say, “I am your grandfather’s heir.” I was working on a novel at the time, and later, after I junked it, I wondered at the weird urge to announce myself as Faulkner’s heir—to his grandson, no less. It was youthful hubris, of course, but still, I’d never been so sure of myself, and now it seemed I’d never start another novel, having been so battered by the one abandoned.

I was wrong. I did start, as well as finish, another novel, though the subject matter—punk rock—proves, as if proof were necessary, that I’m not Faulkner’s heir. But it was a grand illusion for the second it lasted.

bannedcov er

It all began with a fuck. What doesn’t? I fucked the wrong person; I fucked up the right one; somebody played me a song. It changed my whole life, that song. That’s why I later went to so much trouble to find the guy who wrote and sang it. His name was Jim Cassady, or at least that’s what he called himself. His real name was Eddie Brown, but he’d changed it in tribute to Jim Morrison and Neal Cassady. I’d never heard of either one before I discovered punk rock. I grew up in a small city in North Carolina where I’d never known a single soul who listened to the Doors or read Jack Kerouac. I was a jock—a varsity pitcher and All-District linebacker who dressed like a preppie and hung out at frat parties. Even in high school I was hanging out at frat parties. My girlfriend was a cheerleader. My parents were diehard Republicans. Life was good. I hated my life. Nothing ever happened in North Carolina in those days, the early eighties. I used to pray for something to happen, and I’d stopped believing in God at fourteen.