Archive for Entertainment

Dig: Local Bourbon

Ever since I tried their Young Buck Bourbon, I’ve been wanting to visit the JK Williams distillery, a craft distiller out of nearby East Peoria, Illinois. Schedule conflicts and inclement weather made it tough, and the JK Williams line continued to grow. Finally, the Rugrats were out of town this past Sunday, and the Wife and I were looking for something to do.

Perfect time for a visit. We called another couple and the four of us made the trip.

The distillery is a small place, easy to miss on a frontage road in a row of small businesses and offices. They offer hourly tours on weekends, and though it was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, their lobby (and bar counter) was fairly crowded with a group who just finished a tour and another group waiting to take one.

Kassi Williams started our tour with a history lesson of both the company and the whiskey business in Peoria. I knew Peoria was once the whiskey capital of the world prior to Prohibition, but the JK Williams crew, particularly the ladies, put together a nice timeline of historic photos and filled in some details I wasn’t aware of.

Then it was on to the still. I knew they were a small operation, but I didn’t realize they only had the one still. We got to see where they cooked up their mash, we smelled the results of the distillation process every step of the way, and Kassi explained the different mixes and mashes that make up their various products.

Something I really respect about them as a craft distiller is they source as much as they can locally. Their corn is local, and the fruit they use in their fruited liquors are picked by adults with special needs who work with the Tazewell County Resource Center. Way cool.

Then we got to see the aging room.

This room and the barrels were a lot smaller than I expected, too, but their output is still quite high for a four-person operation with only one full-time employee.

JK Williams called their first bourbon Young Buck because it was too young to be legally called a bourbon (bourbon must be aged at least two years). One of the owners, Jon, told me at a tasting that they used special barrels to “age the bourbon faster,” and we got to see one of those barrels: they simply drill several holes on the inside of the barrel staves to increase the surface area the whiskey is exposed to. I liked the Young Buck, but I remember finding it a bit strong to drink neat.

After seeing the aging room, we returned to the lobby bar and were invited to try a quarter ounce of up to four different products, free of charge. (Score! Cocktails were available for purchase, too.) I was eager to finally try their fully-matured bourbon and rye. Unfortunately their High Rye wasn’t available just yet; it’s due this Fall.

The ladies went straight for the fruit drinks: the Peach Whiskey, the Blackberry Whiskey, Smitty’s Apple Pie, and the new Pineapple Whiskey. A bottle of the Pineapple Whiskey came home with my wife.

I went for two of their unaged products, JK’s Corn Whiskey and JK’s Naked Rye, the Straight bourbon, and one I wasn’t aware of, JK’s Select Bourbon.

The Corn Whiskey was sweet as promised, and the Naked Rye had a spicy burn. Jesse and Kassi served up the drinks and advised mixers for both, but I’m kinda dumb and wanted to see what the whiskeys were like solo. It doesn’t make a lot of business sense to have barrels and barrels of product sitting in a warehouse doing nothing, so these products, as well as the Young Buck, give them something to market while the rest of the line matures.

The Bourbon Select, if I understood correctly, comes from a barrel chosen by the distiller, Jesse, and this one was aged 17 months. The Straight had a full two years in the barrel. I rather liked both, though it was hard to get a full sense of the flavors with just a quarter ounce sip. Just the same, I found them both pleasant, with a bit more of a burn on the Select’s finish.

In the end I opted for a bottle of JK’s Straight Bourbon and a shiny new JK Williams whiskey glass (about time I added one of those to my collection). When I got home later that night, I didn’t waste time getting it onto some ice and then mixing up an Old Fashioned.

Let me tell you, this is good stuff. I found it smooth and sweet on ice, with those wonderful, subtle hints of caramel and vanilla. Maybe I finally nailed my Old Fashioned recipe, but I was very pleased with that, too. I’m hoping to set up a tasting for myself soon to compare it to the Woodford Reserve and Four Roses Small Batch that I have on hand.

JK’s stock is appearing in several local stores, and the Young Buck is in Costco. It’s probably worth talking to your liquor store to see if they can get their hands on it. Myself, I’ll just stop on back to the distillery for another tour when the High Rye is released.

Looking for something to do in Peoria? Passing through on I-74, or willing to take a small side trip from I-39? Drop on in and check it out. The tours are open on the weekend and they’re free. If you’re at all interested in whiskey, it’s well worth the trip.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Teaching Grammar with ’80s Metal

It’s simple, kids!

Simile:

Metaphor:

Any questions?

(This is why they make me work in the basement with the computers and not teach actual classes.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Why Aren’t You Listening to The Horror Show?

When Brian launched his new podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene, I of course knew I’d be tuning in. Not only is he a friend and a hell of a writer, but he’s a former radio host and he’s a great reader and emcee at cons. It’s only natural that he’d find himself in front of a mic again at some point.

Let’s get a disclaimer out of the way: I’ve known Brian for 17 years. He’s one of my best friends on the planet. My biggest fear was I’d listen to an episode or two and be bored, and have to tell Brian that maybe he should reconsider his Internet radio revival.

Fortunately that hasn’t been a problem. Brian’s in good hands with Dave Thomas co-hosting and assisting on production, and they gel well in the first few episodes. The show moves along at a good pace, and they manage to avoid the awkward pauses and rambling asides that plague most rookie podcast efforts.

Brian’s also been flying solo for a few episodes, discussing the personal situations that led to writing novels like The Rising and Ghoul. His openness and honesty with fans in these episodes surprises even me, and I can see why so many people have been tuning in.

Of course Brian takes a few minutes to pick a few fights, but hey, it wouldn’t be a Brian Keene joint without poking a few trolls. That’s been part of B’s charm all along, and at times it’s stunning to see his fans step in line to march behind him. Fortunately for us, he’s one of the good guys.

My biggest reason for tuning in, however, is the way the show makes me feel. It’s made me realize how much I miss hanging out with creative people. I haven’t been to a con in ages, and The Horror Show very much feels like our conversations after hours in the bar. I find it energizes me, too. It fills me with the urge to write. Making keyboard time is tough for me these days, and the show often makes me regret the way I’ve filled up my schedule with other things. It’s something I’m working to change, but clearly I’m not working at it fast enough.

If you’re a fan of Brian’s or of horror in general and you haven’t checked out The Horror Show yet, grab yourself a podcatcher (I like Pocket Casts) and make with the clicky. If you’re a writer or someone who digs hearing about the business and process of writing, then you’ll want to tune in, too.

B, if you’re reading, good job, brother. I’m all caught up and ready for the next episode.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

8.6 Reasons to Buy In the Dark

In the Dark is available for preorder on Amazon, and I’d say an 8.6 out of 10 review is a pretty good reason to make with the clicky, no?

Featuring 368 pages of horror!

Featuring 368 pages of horror!

I was especially pleased to see the reviewer, David Henderson, mention my short story “All Things Through Me”. I felt the art by Mike S Henderson and colors by Jordan Boyd really made me look good, and David agreed:

This is one of the better stories in the collection thanks to the faith the two Mikes have in their story to let it play out how it does and even give it a heartfelt ending.

Score. Thanks for the kind words, David. And thanks once again to our intrepid editor, Rachel Deering, for putting this book together.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Princes, Paupers, and Authors

The article “From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?” by Robert McCrum over at The Observer sounds kind of scary at first: a couple of award-winning literary darlings have fallen on hard times due to the changing face of the publishing industry.

Oh, the horror! Maybe I should go back to selling electronics.

Then I considered the stories of the first two authors McCrum sites as examples. The first, Rupert Thomson, is clearly living beyond his means. The second, Hanif Kureishi, was “swindled out of his life savings.”

Are these sad stories truly the fault of the publishing industry? Either situation could easily befall anyone in any job situation. A McDonald’s employee could be swindled out of his life savings, too. Or consider the number of professional athletes who are bankrupt within just a few years of the end of their career. Consider the number of Hollywood celebs who find themselves in the gutter after their big break doesn’t pan out.

The gravy train is not a perpetual motion machine.

Yes, the publishing business can absolutely be fickle. Readers’ attention spans are short and shelf space (or prominent screen space) is finite. Editors change. Publishing houses merge or fall. Oprah’s Book Club will always have a new selection.

Writing sounds like a glamorous career, but it’s also a job. Like any other job, its situation is subject to change.

I don’t doubt these writers are intent on keeping up their word counts, but what are they doing outside of the actual writing? Get deeper into the article, and there are the usual woes of social media, self publishing, and Amazon. Are the authors leveraging these tools themselves? Or are they just waiting for an editor to come along and do it all for them?

It’s the creator’s job to stay relevant, not the industry’s job to keep him there.

The article then goes on to take a shot at the “information should be free” trend and the Google Print Initiative, and their combined threat against copyright. I get why some authors and creators aren’t fans, but again, times change. Situations change. Sure, it sucks when books show up on torrent sites. When books (and movies and music) are easier to publish, they’re easier to pirate. Does that mean give up? To pack it in? To not take advantage of Amazon’s incredible reach (while it, too, lasts)?

Pandora’s box has been opened. When the refrigerator was invented, the ice delivery guy had two choices: starve to death while cursing new technology, or find new uses for his delivery truck.

Adapt or die. This is also a time any one of these authors can take direct ownership of their work and not rely on a middle man. This is a time they can reach more fans than they ever could before, whether through direct social media interaction or a simple electronic newsletter. Writers today can be their own publisher and publicist. The job has evolved.

Finally, awards don’t mean shit, son. They may raise an eyebrow here and there, but in the big picture they’re just another blurb to put on a cover or in a cover letter. Awards translating into piles of cash is a public perception, not an insider’s reality.

Pick a successful creator in any medium. There are more than a few creators someone might point to and say, “he got lucky, he met so-and-so at the right time.” That may be true, but you know what? He was also hustling when so-and-so found him. He was working.

It’s natural to be jealous of success. It’s okay to feel sorry for great creators who have fallen on hard times. Just remember, when it comes down to it, their job is still just another job.

 

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

A Little Bird Valentine

Little Bird is more metal than you.

This is my daughter, the Little Bird. This photo is a few years old, but she’s still pretty bad ass.

Today she brought home the Valentine she created for me at school. Pretty standard, hand-written stuff. Heart on the front.

Then I opened it and read it.

One note before you get to feel the love:

She has a friend who has a goldfish. Little Bird came home after visiting said friend one day last week and asked if she could have one, too. Why not, right? What’s it cost, like ten bucks at Wally World to get her all set up? It’s a no-brainer for her next birthday present this Spring.

There. Now here’s the card:

Dear Dad,

You are the best dad ever. I like beating you at Candyland. It is fun beating you at every single game. It is nice of you to let me have a fish. You are the best dad ever when I beat you at games.

Love,
[Little Bird]

Translation:

You’re cool because I can beat your ass at games and you buy me stuff.

Maybe I should buy her a piranha.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

In the Dark Now Available for Pre-Order

The In the Dark horror comics anthology will hit shelves on April 23rd, but you can preorder your copy today with Diamond/Previews order code FEB14 0452.

Featuring 368 pages of horror!

Featuring 368 pages of horror!

In the Dark had a successful Kickstarter campaign around Halloween last year and will be published by IDW Publishing. The backers already have their copies reserved, and now preorders are available to the general public. Simply stop by your favorite comic shop within the next couple of weeks, give the guy behind the counter the FEB14 0452 order code, and you’ll get your copy in April.

Don’t know where to find a comic shop? Check out the Comic Shop Locator Service.

Congrats to editor Rachel Deering on getting this monster anthology funded and published. I’m looking forward to reading it myself!

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Anna Gunn’s Character Issue, and the Troll Problem

Take a moment to read “I Have a Character Issue” by Anna Gunn. It’s an op-ed piece about all the hatred and threats Gunn receives for her portrayal of Skyler White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. It’s unreal.

I understand the hatred of Skyler White, but at the same time, she’s a great character (and a very well-acted character by Gunn). She strikes me as a very real character, making tough choices as she’s trapped between her fear and disgust of what her husband has become and the love she still has for the father of her children. She has undergone her own transformation, albeit not as extreme as Walt’s.

On top of which people seem to forget Walt is the bad guy. Yes, he’s our protagonist, he’s become a badass, and on some level a lot of us can relate to him. But he’s also a complete anti-hero. If he were our own neighbor and we learned what he had done, we would be in complete fear of him, not awe.

Ladies, how would you react if this were your husband? Guys, how do you think your own wives would react if you were Walt? Whether it’s support for criminal enterprise or taking the kids and running, it’s going to be a strong, visceral reaction. She’s not going to turn into June Cleaver and bake you a cake.

As for this:

“I have never hated a TV-show character as much as I hate her,” one poster wrote. The consensus among the haters was clear: Skyler was a ball-and-chain, a drag, a shrew, an “annoying bitch wife.”

This sexism is ridiculous. If women really behaved the way some of these idiots think they should, they’d have even less respect for women than they do now.

Then we have the hatred of Gunn herself. Holy shit how ridiculous is this? She didn’t write the character, she portrays Skyler as written and directed. Yes, Gunn absolutely brings her own strengths to the character and makes Skyler her own, but she’s not the one dictating Skyler’s actions. You hate Skyler White? Complain to Vince Gilligan.

It also demonstrates how people can’t separate the persona from the actress, and it’s a scary side of celebrity culture. People fall in love with characters and fawn all over the celebrities, without thinking the actor is very likely someone completely different from whom they are portraying.

Anna Gunn played a very different wife in Deadwood. Did she catch any flack for that one? If so, certainly not on this level. Do these same people expect Bryan Cranston to be Walter White or the bumbling Hal from Malcolm in the Middle? He can’t be both, but he’s a dude so he gets a pass.

I find a little comfort in knowing these same people wouldn’t have the stones to say things like “could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?” if they weren’t sheltered by the anonymity of an online account and the distance of a keyboard. However, we need to squash this behavior. Our school band director has a great quote on the bulletin board in his classroom: “What you permit you promote.”

When the people managing these forums and comment sections don’t do something about the sexist idiots, and the other users let them run their mouths without confrontation, we’re telling them it’s okay. They get to think their little zinger was so awesome, and then they do it again and again.

If we want to change the behavior, then we need to stop letting it slide. We need to stop saying, “great, another troll,” and move on. How do you kill a troll? Expose them to light. Take away that anonymity. Make them eat the very shit they’re shoveling.

If we don’t, it’s only going to get worse.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

You Need to See Pacific Rim

The people who said Pacific Rim is too geeky for general audiences are morons.

Yes, there is plenty there for geeks, but overall it is a great, blockbuster action flick with plenty to entertain everyone. The effects are very well done, you can see everything that’s happening, and the 3D IMAX I saw was gorgeous.

Yes, the plot touches on some expected clichés, but it is solid and fun. Idris Elba has the standout performance, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are a lot of fun, but I really had no problems with the cast. If you like Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, you’ll dig him as Raleigh Becket.

The flick opens with action, and every fight scene is escalated from the last. They are fun and brutal, and you get a real sense of the characters actually being in danger. There is a bit of exposition in the middle, but it moves quickly and moves the plot forward rather than bogging everything down in pointless detail.

Thank you, Guillermo del Toro, for showing us that a big-budget action flick with a geeky subject matter does not have to be dumbed down or peppered with goofy comedy. With Pacific Rim, del Toro redeems Hollywood for putting out that piece of shit Devlin and Emmerich Godzilla flick.

Your move, Japan.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Venture Brothers

Watching season one on Netflix. I so regret not getting into this show earlier.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Back to the Grind

For the first time all week, it actually felt like Spring Break today. Too bad it’s back to the day gig tomorrow.

Let's go, Chiefs!

Behind home plate at Peoria’s O’Brien Field

A friend and I took our sons to their first minor league baseball game as the Peoria Chiefs hosted the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. I’m not a big baseball fan, but kids under 12 get in free on Sundays and our seats behind home plate were only ten bucks, so it’s tough to complain. The boys were excited because they’ve decided they’re St Louis Cardinals fans, and the Cards are the new owners of the Chiefs. Two Chiefs home runs in the first inning ensured we’d have an exciting game, and in the end the Chiefs beat the Timber Rattlers 7-2. After the game, the boys all got to go out to the field and run the bases.

Every year I find a new reason to like Peoria. I grew up near Chicago, and while I do miss a lot about the Windy City, there’s plenty to do in Peoria and it usually costs less. Cheap sports, a couple museums, some sites to visit, a water park and sports complex the kids love, an annual beer fest… all the benefits of the big city without all the traffic.

If only we could just change the Illinois weather.

It was nice to relax and just hang out all day. It was a refreshing change from all the running around I’ve been doing. Even the zoo trip the other day was part of a specific errand, and we didn’t get to stay long. Too bad it’s the last day of Spring Break.

It’s back to the grind on the writing projects, too. On deck this week: final edits on a work-for-hire project; the edits on Lie with the Dead; revisiting a short story; revisiting the Exit Strategy.

I’ve just realized I haven’t been reading much fiction lately, either. Time to correct that with Chuck Palahniuk’s new Kindle Short, Phoenix. Start short, then dive back into novels. I’ve been drowning in non-fiction lately.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

You Should Be Listening to Clutch

Whether we’re talking writing, art, music or filmmaking, word of mouth is key to a creator’s survival. Someone could write the most amazing piece of literature ever put to paper, but it won’t make a lick of difference if only three people read it.

Sure, advertising and marketing help, but they can only go so far. How many over-hyped blockbuster flops have we seen the past several years? Once word gets out the plot sucks, the acting is terrible, and the flick is just plain boring, it doesn’t matter how much money the studio threw at the advertising department.

What needs to happen is those first three people need to tell everyone they know how incredible the creation they just experienced is. Sure, I’ll settle for them telling three more people each, but if you finish the last track on an album and say, “Wow, that was awesome,” then you need to tell everyone. Remember the true meaning of awesome? Something that fills you with awe. Something awe-inspiring, not just, “Yeah, that was pretty good.”

Which brings me to Clutch. They’re not exactly a small band, but it surprises me how few people have heard of them. They have their own label, they tour like crazy, and they get some play on satellite radio, but I have yet to hear them on any terrestrial radio stations. They first came close to mainstream with their “Electric Worry” playing in the background of commercials for the Left 4 Dead game series.

They deserve more exposure. Their songwriting and studio work is damn good, but the awesome part comes during their live shows. These guys kill it on stage. No spectacle or flashy lights and pyro, just some damn fine playing, and most of the time in small, intimate clubs where you can get up close, like so:

BOW TO THE ALMIGHTY CLUTCH!

Suddenly I feel like a stalker

I first discovered them when they opened for Pantera fifteen or so years back at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. They performed most of their first full-length album, and I distinctly remember “Rock & Roll Outlaw”. Even today it’s one of my favorite tracks, and it’s not unusual to catch my kids singing it. (For a while it was my middle son’s most-requested song in the car.)

I mention Clutch now because they just released a new album, Earth Rocker, last month. You need it. Their work is primarily rock, with their earlier work leaning toward hard rock, but they also have a strong blues influence that comes to the surface from time to time. Take, for example, “Gone Cold” off Earth Rocker:

Love it. Yet you still get their songs influenced by cars and science fiction, like “Crucial Velocity”:

I’m looking forward to hearing these tracks live. They’re going to be playing the House of Blues in Chicago on Friday, April 12th, but it’s not looking like I’ll be able to make it. Fortunately I caught them at a small club in Joliet back in November, so I at least got my fix.

Even if these particular tracks don’t catch your ear, check out some of their other albums. They have a real range to their music, and there’s sure to be something for everyone. In fact, I’ll leave you with another of my favorites, “The Regulator” off of Blast Tyrant.

That may actually sound familiar to some of you. Remember when I said their first flirting with the mainstream was “Electric Worry”? Well, “The Regulator” saw airtime during an episode of The Walking Dead.

Boom. Now it’s clicking.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.