Jon Etter

Writer, Teacher, Resident of the October Country

I’m happy to report that Fighting Monkey Press’s anthology Uncommon Lands, edited by the incomparable Jessica West, is now available in both print and ebook formats and includes my short magical realism romance “Anderson’s Necessaries.” Jess has really put together a fantastic collection of stories, and I’m honored to be included.

I’d also like to thank Kay in Scotland for the lovely note about the story. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and hope that it was worthy of your chocolate getting melty while reading it.

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Entombed in Verse: An Epitaph for Salem is out now! Got my comp copy yesterday and read it cover to cover. Now that I’ve seen the array of talent that Amber Newberry and Laurie Moran lined up, I’m even more honored to have my little poem, “Song of Salem,” included in the bunch. You can order a copy directly from Fundead Publications or through Amazon or Barnes and Noble, although I encourage you to click the link and order directly from them–it’s a little more money directly in their pockets.

Martin Literary Management

I’m ecstatic to report that I have a literary agent! Yesterday, I signed a contract with the wonderful Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management in Seattle. If anyone can help me fulfill my childhood dream to one day go to a library and see a book with my name on it on the shelves, it’s her.

That said, obviously there’s no guarantee that any of my books will ever see print, but the odds just went way up, so fingers crossed!

 

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I don’t write much poetry–I’m more of a prose man when it comes to writing–but I do dabble a bit in poetry when what I’ve got to say lends itself best to that form. So I’m very surprised and pleased to announce that I’ll have my first published poem, “Song of Salem,” hit the stands this summer in the anthology Entombed in Verse: An Epitaph for Salema collection of poems about Salem, Massachusetts focusing on its culture and heritage, including, of course, the infamous witch trials. “Song of Salem” is a Golden Shovel poem, which takes a quote from an existing work and then uses each word from that quote as an end word in a way that comments or expands on the original quote. The jumping off for “Song” is a quote from the infamous Malleus Maleficarum, or “Hammer of Witches,” used for over two hundred years to identify, try, and execute witches, including those killed in Salem:

“To conclude: All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is in women insatiable.”

If you are so inclined, you can pre-order the collection from Fundead Publishing at the link above or wait for it to be available on Amazon in print and ebook format sometime this summer.

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I’m very happy to report that Dark Fire Fiction has been kind enough to publish my short story “Dissecting the Future” on their website. They do a great job of bringin’ the creepy, so it’s a real honor for them to pick up the story. Word to the wise: while my fiction usually sticks to sunnier patches of fantasy, this one is right from the pools of darkness (and blood) down in fiction’s cellar. So if you’re in the mood for something gruesome and didn’t have the chance to read this story back when it appeared in print in Midnight Circus, just click on the title and enjoy! Or be terrified! Or nauseated! Or maybe hit the trifecta!

 

Of all the sketches I wrote for Alamo Basement, this was hands down the biggest hit of them all. I got more compliments for this than probably all my other sketches combined, and it became a staple of performances for a while. Why exactly I’m not completely sure, but if I had to guess, I’d say that it struck a nostalgic chord with the twenty- and thirty-somethings that made up our core audience back then. People always have a deep love for the media staples they grew up with, and if you watched horror movies back in the 1980s, the killers in the skit (with the exception of Norman Bates) were your killers. Plus, as always, a big part of it has to do with the amazing performances by the actors in the cast. Especially worthy of note was Michael Q. Hanlon’s performance as Jason. When you get to his dialogue at the end of the scene, remember that the first time this was performed, he had 12 hours to memorize that dialogue in addition to the dialogue for all the other skits he was in. Yet he didn’t make a single complaint (which would have been fully justified). I believe his only response to seeing his end speech was to exhale heavily and mutter, “Oh, boy…”

This was, I believe, my first 24-Hour sketch. It was a Halloween performance, which did color the draw pool quite a bit. This one is also the only skit that I exercised the futz rule on. While my setting “a support group” was gold, my character draw was terrible: “the guys who stole the painting The Scream,” which had just happened and was big news. Having no idea how to use those characters, I went with movie killers instead and relegated the art criminals to a throw-away line.

As far as the selection of killers went, I gave it a lot of thought. I knew that I wanted either Jason Voorhees or Michael Meyer, but I could only use one because they’re essentially the same character. I went with Jason because the hockey mask is more iconic (and easier to scrounge up) and his backstory is more compelling. On the other end, Freddy Krueger and Chucky are both talkative, wisecracking killers, so pairing them up seemed like a good source of tension. Besides, each one’s schtick is distinct enough that it wasn’t the Jason/Michael problem. Norman Bates rounded things out because he’s the first of the slashers, plus his tendency to become “Mother” when stressed out seemed like a good source of comedy, plus his uptight nature seemed like a good foil for the flamboyant evil and excessive vulgarity typical of Freddy and Chucky.

Additional Note #1: You’ll notice that the prop list calls for a costume for the person playing Chucky. Instead, the actress playing him brought in a doll and just held it in the folding chair and delivered his lines crouched down behind, which worked way better.

Additional Note #2: During one of our Halloween performances, Darryl, one of our two tallest members, played Frankenstein’s monster in this skit, another skit, and Frankenberry in my “Cereal Killers” skit. Before that performance, he showed us with pride how each monster performance was slightly different. And they were subtly but noticeably different if you paid attention. I was both amused and impressed by his dedication to his craft.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW SUPPORT GROUP

CAST

Dr. Fitzsimmons–psychologist/touchy-feely group leader

Freddie Krueger

Chucky

Jason Voorhees

Norman Bates/”Mother”

Frankenstein’s Monster

Props Needed: Red haired wig and overalls (Chucky); Hockey mask and machete/big knife (Jason); Fedora, striped sweater, knife-glove (Freddie); woman’s wig (preferably grey) and dress (Norman); Frankenstein mask (the monster)

Scene: Room at a community center with half-circle of chairs.

(Enter Dr. Fitzsimmons, followed by Freddie, Chucky, Jason (holding a machete), and Norman)

DR. FITZSIMMONS: All right, gentlemen. Come on in. Sorry you had to wait–this door should have been opened for us.

FREDDIE: I’ll gut that janitor and wear his face for a Halloween mask!

CHUCKY: No, he’s mine! I’ll…

FREDDIE: You’ll do what, runt? Punch him in the kneecap? Bite his ankle?

DR. F: Gentlemen! Enough of that. You’ll do nothing of the sort. It’s that sort of behavior that landed each of you in group therapy to begin with. Now let’s all have a seat and get started.

(Freddie and Chuckie glare at each other and all take a seat.)

NORMAN: Thanks, Dr. Fitzsimmons. Mother really wouldn’t want me exposed to any hostility like that. She raised me to be as harmless as a fly.

FREDDIE: (to Norman) Momma’s boy.

NORMAN: (Smiles) That’s very nice of you to say.

DR. F: Okay, let’s get started. Now we all know why we’re here…

CHUCKY: Yeah, we’re monsters!

FREDDIE: Damn straight!

NORMAN: Dr. Fitzsimmons, he just swore! Mother doesn’t like me to hear swears.

DR. F:  Charles, Frederick, we’ve talked about these labels that foster unhealthy self-images. You’re not monsters. Monsters are people like those guys who stole the Scream painting or the Republican National Committee. You are victims of childhood abuse who have made poor choices. So let’s begin like we always do by saying who we are and why we’re here. Frederick, you start.

FREDDIE: (stands) My name is Freddie Krueger, and I’m in anger management because I kill teenagers in their dreams.

ALL: Hi, Freddie. (Freddie sits)

CHUCKY: (stands) My name is Chuckie, and I’m in anger management because I’ve slaughtered several families.

ALL: Hi, Chucky.

JASON: (stands and says nothing)

ALL: (after a few moments of awkward silence) Hi, Jason.

NORMAN: (stands) My name is Norman Bates, and I’m here because my mother did some very bad things and this will help me better understand what she did.

ALL: Hi, Norman.

DR. F: Now, Norman, you know that you did all of those bad things.

NORMAN: No, it was definitely mother.

DR. F: Norman, you must take ownership of your actions or you’ll never get better.

NORMAN: But, I…

DR. F: Norman!

NORMAN: (looks nervous, confused for a second) May I go to the bathroom? I’ll be right back. (Dashes out of room.)

FREDDIE: That pansy makes me want to puke!

CHUCKY: Good thing you’re a janitor–you can clean that right up. Got any of that orange sawdust on you, Delmer.

FREDDIE: No, so it looks like I’ll just have to gut you to get some, Howdy-Doody.

CHUCKY: Oh, you want a piece of me? Why don’t you just…

DR. F: That’s enough! None of this is helping. Now if you’ll both just…

(Norman reenters wearing a wig and dress)

NORMAN: (in woman’s voice) I’m sorry, everyone, but my little Normie is feeling a bit urpy, so I’ll be sitting in for him.

DR. F: Norman, you know that’s really you and that this is just a defense mechanism you use when you feel threatened.

NORMAN: No, it isn’t.

DR. F: Yes, it is.

NORMAN: No, it isn’t.

CHUCKY: Hey, freakjob, which bathroom did you use? The little boy’s room or the little girl’s room?

FREDDIE: “Little boy’s room”? What are you–five? Oh, that’s right, you are!

DR. F: Okay, all of this is counterproductive, so it stops right now. Let’s start talking about where all of our pent-up hostility began. Jason, why don’t you start.

(Jason sits, unmoving and silent.)

DR. F: Well, maybe we’ll come back to Jason. How about we go to…(Frankenstein’s Monster enters)

FRANKENSTEIN: Friends?

DR. F: Yes, come in, come in! Everyone, it looks like we have a new group member. Why don’t you tell us who you are and why you’re here?

FRANKENSTEIN: No have name. Frankenstein make me from dead things. Way he touched make me feel yucky…

DR. F: Oh, I’m sorry–you want Adult Survivors of Mad Science. That’s down the hall on the left.

FRANKENSTEIN: Sorry. Thank you. (Leaves)

DR. F: Okay, where were we? How about you, Charles? Why don’t you tell us why you did all the bad things that you did?

CHUCKY: Because I wanted to. I’m freakin’ evil! Baddest of the bad!

FREDDIE: Please! A killer Teddy Ruxpin? You ain’t fit to hold evil’s jockstrap.

DR. F: Frederick, stop. Personal attacks will not help Charles make any breakthroughs here. Now, Charles, we both know that these things start somewhere. What was it? Were you cruelly thrown out by your owner once he got too big for dolls?

NORMAN: My little Normie had a doll once, but I burned it because all a boy should really need is his mother.

DR. F: Norman, please wait your turn–this is Charles’ time. (Turns back to Chucky) Were you replaced with some new, fancy spaceman figure? Or maybe…

CHUCKY: I’m not really a freakin’ doll! I was a mass murderer who cheated death by putting his body in this Chucky doll…

FREDDIE: Good call, Raggedy Andy! The only serial killer safe for ages 5 and up!

CHUCKY: Oh, yeah, you’re one to talk. “Look at me! I scare kids to death with my uber-acne and spooky, spooky nursery rhyme! One, two, Lame-o’s coming for you!”

FREDDIE: Isn’t it past your bedtime? Shouldn’t you be stuffed in a toybox somewhere?

CHUCKY: Don’t you have some teenage boy’s dream to lurk in? All I gotta say is, I hope that sweater’s got stain-guard, pervo.

DR. F: Enough! I have had enough of these juvenile one-liners and horrendous personal attacks! None of this helps foster an environment that will allow you to develop the positive self-esteem needed to help you end the shame spirals you’ve been trapped in for most of your lives.

NORMAN: I agree. My boy will not get the help he needs in this zoo.

DR. F: Oh, would you just stop it, Norman! We all saw your mother’s body in the basement. We know it’s you, so just drop the act!

NORMAN: Well! I will not be talked to this way by some painted jezebell who just wants to cause impure thoughts in my little Normie! (Storms out.)

CHUCKY: Hey, if Mommy’s lil’ nutjob gets to leave, so do I!

FREDDIE: Buzz Lightyear’s got a point. Plus there’s a “went to school naked” dream going on now that I do NOT want to miss. (Freddie and Chuckie exit.)

DR. F: (Follows them to door) Wait! Give it a little more time! If you just stick around for the trust-building exercises I have planned…(Looks crestfallen, turns, sees Jason still sitting there, walks over and plops in seat next to him. Sighs.) Why am I doing this, Jason? I’m not helping anyone. This group is useless… And why am I asking questions to a mute who couldn’t answer me even if he wanted to.

JASON: (clears throat and then begins speaking in a very clear, refined voice) Actually, you’re wrong on all counts. I’m not, actually a mute and I think you’re severely undervaluing the work that you’ve done here.

DR. F:   You can talk! Why haven’t you said anything until now.

JASON: Well, I tend to lack confidence because of the negative self-image resulting from my deformed visage and cognitive disabilities and the resultant taunting from my peers. Plus, the group dynamic has been a bit skewed by the very forceful presences of Frederick and Charles. Subsequently, I’ve been forced to occupy the role of “the quiet one” as a counterbalance to them.

DR. F: Frankly, I’m astounded! And you say that the therapy has helped?

JASON: Oh, most assuredly. I had always assumed that my murderous rage came from the taunting and my death due to negligent teen lifeguards, but my time in the group, especially working with Norman and his issues, has helped me realize that I’ve really been rebelling against the domineering presence of my mother who forced me into situations that I was neither cognitively nor socially advanced enough to handle just so that she could feel needed. Even my penchant for slaying nubile young women in flagrante delicto, as it were, is a misguided attempt to deal with an unresolved Oedipal complex. I really can’t thank you enough for this great gift of self-knowledge. (Embraces DR. F)

DR. F: Oh, Jason, this is wonderful! I know the road to recovery is a long one, but I truly believe that together…(Jason starts stabbing her in the back. She slumps in his embrace.) Why…?

JASON: I guess I still have some unresolved issues to work through. (Dr. F dies and falls to the ground.) Hmm. Guess it’s back to Crystal Lake for me. I wonder what kind of counselling services they have there. (Exits)

 

Thus ends the great Alamo Basement cavalcade of sketches. Thanks for reading! And, as always, all scripts are copyright, trademark, patent, and razorwire, attack dog, armed guard, and alligator-filled moat protected by yours truly, so please no publishing or performing of this skit without asking first. I’ll probably be cool with it.

 

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Okay, not every piece of writing can be a gem and not every performance is going to be Olivier playing Hamlet. What follows is a description of three 24-hour scripts that, for a variety of reasons, flopped. Fingers will be pointed, blame will be assigned, recriminations will be bitter. As far as “lost”… Well, I have them all, but I think I’ll just let them rot in their electronic graves rather than exhume them to shock and repulse (or maybe just bore) the public.

Just to review the 24-Hour Theater process Alamo Basement followed:

8:00 PM: Writers meet. For two minutes writers brainstorm character ideas, write them on slips of paper, and put them in a hat. Two minutes are then spent doing the same for settings/situations. Once done, each writer draws a character from one hat and a situation from the other, which is writing option number one. Writer then repeats this to get option two. Each writer then has until 8:00 AM to pound out a script based on one of those two options. One of the two parts must be used. The other must at least be mentioned. Elements of options 1 & 2 cannot be swapped for each other. For example, if I randomly drew “a cannibal” and “a toddler’s birthday party,” my sketch would have to either focus on a cannibal or be set at a toddler’s birthday party and include a mention of the other one somewhere in the dialogue. Ideally, my sketch would have a cannibal at a toddler’s birthday party (which would be awesome).

8:00 AM: Writers bring printed copies of the script to wherever the table read and planning session is, ideally the actual site of that night’s performance. Actors and directors read through scripts, settle on roles, and decide which sketches from previous performances will also be performed to fill out the full hour and a half to 2 hours of the night’s performance. Sketches are blocked out, props are scavenged, lines are rehearsed, everybody preps like mofos.

8:00 PM: Performance.

As you can see, this is an amazingly ridiculous way to put on a show with immense potential for failure. Yet almost everything usually came off really well. Almost. Which leads us to:

“Lost” Script #1: “Star Trek: The Oldest Generation”

The draw that night gave me “World’s Greatest Grandpa” and “the Starship Enterprise.” Solid stuff and I think the script had some decent gags. The basic premise was that Captain Kirk’s grandfather, “Pappy” Kirk, is on the ship for a visit and wreaks havoc by revealing embarrassing details of Kirk’s childhood, making racist/speciesist/xenophobic comments, using the power core as a toilet (because we were a classy outfit), and almost starting a war with the Klingons. Overall, I stand by most of the jokes although the writing was a bit too rushed to be really good (more on that later).

Where this one really died was in the performance. A lot of lines got dropped or swapped around, timing on some jokes was really off, and, unfortunately, only one of the actors had actually seen any episodes of the original Star Trek series (much to the shock and horror of all the writers who could quote chapter and verse from it). Honestly, it’s amazing that this so rarely happened given the time constraints we were under, which is really a testament to the talent of the acting cast. In spite of all that, I’ve got to say that the guy who played Captain Kirk did a fantastic job considering he only had impressions done by the writers to base his performance on. Unfortunately, his stellar performance wasn’t enough to save the sketch, which was immediately retired upon completion.

“Lost” Script #2: “Employee Appreciation/Insemination Picnic”

This was actually written the same night as “Oldest Generation.” The previous month, one of the other writers managed to crank out sketches to go with both of his randomly selected prompts in the allotted 12 hours. Impressed, I decided I would do the same for a future performance. What I overlooked, however, was the fact that neither of his scripts were that good (in my opinion). Consequently, I also wrote two somewhat half-assed scripts in the time that should have been spent just writing one whole-assed one.

Something else working against this particular script was the prompt itself. While the situation was very workable and full of potential–“a company picnic”–the character prompt was, at best, problematic: “sperm.” Yes, my draw was “sperm at the company picnic.”

What I came up with was based a bit on the insurance company that my mother worked for, which did a really good job (and still does) taking care of its employees, including paid vacations for completing coursework, exercise and sports facilities for employees and their families, college scholarships for their kids (one of which helped pay for my B.A. in English Education), etc. Basically, they try to make it so nice to work for them that you won’t want to leave. It worked–my mother worked for them until she retired and my sister has spent her entire working career with them.

For my sketch I thought I’d take those very admirable attempts to keep employees and their families happy to ensure a dedicated and productive workforce to their logical conclusion. In it, a new employee attend Touchlemen Industries’s employee appreciation picnic to discover it’s also their annual day to breed their employees with each other to create the next generation of Touchlemen employees. Not necessarily a bad premise, but the sketch wasn’t fully developed and the actress who played the new employee, one who wasn’t usually a member of the troupe, found the premise and some of the jokes so gross that she initially refused to do the sketch, which I can say with some pride is the only time that happened with any Alamo Basement sketch. Naturally, that didn’t bring about the best performance.

The performance of this sketch was solid and it actually went over pretty well with the audience, but we all kind of agreed afterwards that this was a one-time-only performance due to its crude nature. But as I pointed to everyone, if you put sperm in the writers’ hat, things are going to get unpleasant.

“Lost” Script #3: “Bio-Doomed!”

This one is all on me. And truth be told, I’m not completely sure that it was actually performed.

This was at the very end of my involvement in Alamo Basement. Work was busy, I was planning a wedding (well, helping with that in minimal ways), and just a bunch of other things were making it harder and harder to stay involved with Alamo Basement. But I still pitched in here and there.

Now I can’t remember all the details, but for some reason the troupe was doing some special mid-week show and the timeline was kind of wonky. The de facto head of the group, Mike, had asked me if I wanted to take part, to which I had said, “No, I have to work that day and I have a horrendous cold that makes forming and expressing coherent thoughts mandible ham-pants.” So imagine my surprise the next morning when Mike emailed me the single prompts they had drawn for me: “teenagers trying to buy beer” and “Bio-dome.”

Rather than just ignore it and go about my day (the right call in that situation), I spent my lunch hour and prep period–maybe an hour and fifteen minutes total–slapping together a skit in which two dumb teenagers living in the bio-dome (which was big news at the time) try various ruses to get the people minding the bio-dome supplies to give them beer, constantly failing to realize that everybody knows everybody in a small, closed environment like that, so that the two people who could give them beer know it’s them every time. A limited premise with minimal characterization and pretty obvious jokes–easily the worst thing I wrote in my time with AB. Once it was done, I sent it off unedited to Mike and washed my hands of the whole thing. Not an approach to writing I’d recommend for anyone.

There you go! And now that I’ve recounted my greatest failures, in my next post I’m share what was easily the most popular skit I wrote for Alamo Basement: “The Texas Chainsaw Support Group.”

 

I’m very excited to announce that my story “Beer, Wine & Spirits” has been reprinted in issue 4 of The Singularity, available in print and ebook formats now. It’s a great London-based Science Fiction/Fantasy magazine with some real top-notch talent, so it’s a real honor to be included. Go love them with your monies and tell them I sent you!

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Want to read my work without all the hassle of running your eyes across words on a page? Of course not–reading to yourself is for suckers! Well, now you don’t have to: The Great Tome of Forgotten Relics and Artifacts, featuring my stories “Special Collections” and “The Oracle of Delphi Street,” is now available as an audiobook available from Amazon, Audible, and probably some other venues that I can’t think of off the top of my head. Hey, my first audiobook–pretty cool!

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