Consternation of Monsters Podcast

EPISODE 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play (live from the Pocahontas County Opera House)

" a Flame" the stage playThe Mothman of West Virginia is reported to be a winged creature, the size of a man, but with glowing red eyes. There have been a few plays written about this creature. This is one of them.

Presenting the stage adaptation of Eric Fritzius’s short story “…to a Flame” as recorded during its performance during the Opera House PlayFest, at the Pocahontas County Opera House, in Marlinton, W.Va., in 2016.

The adaptation stars John C. Davis as Jeff, Dwayne Kennison as Virgil Hawks, and the author himself as Rik Winston.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 05: “…to a Flame” the stage play



EPISODE 04: “Old Country” a Live Radio Adaptation REDUX

Old Country

Episode 04 of the REDUX version of the Consternation of Monsters Podcast features a recording of a live radio adaptation of the short story “Old Country” as found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters.

On a day in 1983, Martin Riscili receives the most important phone call of his life.  His late father’s mobster “associate,” Jimmy Jambalaya, has just phoned to alert Martin to his imminent death by Jimmy’s own hand.  His house is watched.  His phone line is dead.  Jimmy’s on his way.  And the only thing Martin can think of that might yet save his life is his grandmothers’ quilt.

If only he could remember where he put it.

A story of crime and punishment and contractual terms with forces beyond our understanding.

This is a live radio-style adaptation was recorded live on October 12, 2015, at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, W Va.   It stars Sarah Elkins as Melissa, Shane Miller as Martin, the author himself as Tino and The Warrior, and a special appearance by Dr. AC as Jimmy Jambalaya.

DOWNLOAD: Episode 04: “Old Country” a live radio adaptation REDUX


Limited Editions Opened

My most recent Consternation of Monsters podcast features an excerpt from my short story “Limited Edition.”  And by excerpt, I mean about half of it.

Though it is the longest story to be found in A Consternation of Monsters, it is also probably one that was one of the quickest for me to develop because the core idea for it arrived in my head close to fully formed.  Though I hinted at this recently in my interview with J.D. Byrne, there’s a little more to tell about the story.

For a while in the early oughts, I was a part of an email writing and critique group consisting of several writer friends of mine from college.  And because it began in the year 2000, and we all loved David Fincher movies, we were obliged to call ourselves Write Club. (And subsequently make the joke “First rule about Write Club is… well, you know,” let’s say 480 times.)  For a handful of years there, we took turns issuing monthly writing challenges to one another, with solid, umovable deadlines that often became less solid as they approached.  But eventually the deadline would fall and fall solidly and we were honor bound to turn something in for the others to critique.  Early drafts of a few of the stories in Consternation were spawned by this method, including “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” “Nigh,” “Old Country,” and, of course, “Limited Edition.”  In fact, I give credit to the very Write Club member who dreamed up the prompt that brought “Limited Edition” into being as part of the dedication to Consternation.  “…to Joe Evans, my ideal reader, who also gave me the line about the fork.”

The “line about the fork” was a simple one.  It was Joe’s turn to issue a writing prompt to the rest of us and his was this:  we were to write a story that must include the phrase “Something told him that in all the world, there was no other fork quite like this one.”  

As a writer, I’ve had a handful of what I call Blues Brothers moments in which I–much like Jake Blues in the church at the beginning of The Blues Brothers–receive, seemingly from on high, a direct transmission of knowledge propelling me on a mission from God and/or from my subconscious.  These are magical moments in which a mosaic of images and information seem to fall into place in my head and my visualization and imagination centers go into overdrive as they struggle to process the info dump they’ve just received.  In the moment, I feel almost pinned in place by the celestial beam from above.

An instant after I read Joe’s line about the fork, one of those Blues Brothers moments happened to me.  I was pinned in place in my office chair and suddenly knew exactly what the fork in his sentence meant, the implied-yet-still-loose-enough-to-maneuver-in backstory of not only it but similar and related objects, how this fork would come into the story, who would possess it, who would want it, and a the most logical and fun setting in which such a story would occur.  I also knew which pre-existing character of mine would also be appearing in it, due to the fact that her known occupation–as seen in “The Wise Ones”–synced up nicely with the subject-matter.  I even knew why she would be there.  Those were the basic beats that fell into my head and those beats never changed throughout the writing process.  (I take such gifts from my subconscious quite seriously and try not to deviate from their structures, lest I do damage to plot points put into motion of which I may not yet be entirely aware.  I’m a firm believer that my brain is smarter than I am and that it’s often watching out for me when I’m not paying attention.)

Now, it’s one thing to say that a story fell into your head and another thing to write it.  There are all sorts of details about the story that I was not given in my Blues Brother’s Moment download, which I would have to either imagine or, as turned out to be the case, heavily research.  My setting for the story, granted to me by my noggin, was a tour stop for the American version of the Antiques Roadshow–the public television show in which antiques appraisers offer commentary and assign value to items brought in by the general public.  It was a show I liked, though not one I was in the habit of regularly watching at the time being as how I didn’t get PBS.  However, I adored the BBC America broadcasts of the original UK version, so I was familiar with the basic format.  Fortunately, there’s quite a bit of information about the show and its mechanics to be found online.  Quite a bit.   I was able to learn how it was shot, how the tour worked, who the appraisers were, who the hosts have been, who the executive producers are, how the antiques that made it onto camera were chosen, how many items actually made it to camera in a given stop, how the antiques were categorized for review, and, most amusingly, which practically worthless antiques repeatedly turn up in the mitts of folks who hope and fervently believe they are about to become fabulously wealthy.  (At the time of my research, it seemed to be the one that turns up in the opening paragraphs of the story.)  In fact, there was so much information about the show that I decided I didn’t really need all that much, beyond a few key pieces to help establish the tone of the setting, and the sort of locations the show is usually filmed within.

I also had to research my basic subject: the fork.  We take forks for granted because in the U.S. we’ve never experienced a time when they were not in our lives on a daily basis.  And it was the ubiquitous nature of the fork that suggested further plot avenues to take, given the nature of the fork in question.  (Which, I’m a little embarrassed to say, does not actually make an appearance in the podcast excerpt.  You’ll have to buy the book to learn what’s up with it.)  I had to know how and when the fork actually came into common use as an eating utensil–because it struck me as logical that human beings basically just used their hands to feed themselves for most of our existence.  Still, the fork is such a universally useful tool that it also had to be a very very old one.  And it is.  So much so that I could find no origin point for it, though the historical record gave me a date range in which they came into more common use at the dinner table–which was around the same time that the dinner table also came into popular use.  The research also yielded some fun little factoids, such as the amount of suspicion heaped upon the table fork for many years after its introduction, due to its very existence being an afront to God himself by daring to improve upon the hands he had already given us.

My main character of the story, antiques appraiser C. Phillips Hovelan, walked into it mostly formed.  He wasn’t a direct part of the Blues Brothers Moment, but his presence was suggested and his personality felt right.  He isn’t based on anyone in particular, though he does remind me of a particularly acerbic college professor I once had.  I’ve certainly never seen any appraisers on Antiques Roadshow who were such outright assholes as Phil in the story.  He just seemed like the sort of character archetype who would fit the situation, and one who would be a nice foil to the other main character, my old friend Miss Zeddie.

Until I wrote “Limited Edition,” Miss Zeddie was exclusively known as either Madam Z or Omega–names revealed in other stories found in Consternation and elsewhere.  The trouble is, my fellow Write Clubbers were all also co-creators in a collective fictional universe we developed over a period of years during college to serve as the setting for various role-playing game adventures.  A core of three of us, Joe Evans, Sujay Shaunak, and Marcus Hammack, actually ran the RPG adventures as game-masters and each of them were in charge of their own corner of the universe.  I was not a game-master, but I love to world-build and set about creating extensive databases and timelines for the characters and concepts we encountered during our games.  Eventually, Sujay and I spun things off into prose stories to help fill in some gaps in our storytelling that weren’t so easy to accomplish in the games themselves.

Madam Z had first appears as a non-player character in a couple of our games.  She was a wise and mysterious old woman who served to guide us during an adventure or two.  And she’d been created (as I detail in my recent interview) by Marcus Hammack–who I also thank in the dedication.  I was enchanted with her from the start, thinking Marcus had these grand plans for her, and imagining what her backstory might be.  Only later did I learn that he had basically come up with her on the spot, had no grand plans for her at all, nor any notion of what her backstory might be.  As disappointing as this was, it was to my gain, because after Marcus graduated and left town I kind of inherited her for use in my prose stories.

Because my fellow Write Clubbers would recognize her immediately, though, if I called her Madam Z, I decided she needed a secret identity for the story–one which would definitely hint at her true identity for them, but maybe not on first appearance.  I called her Miss Zeddie.  They could figure out it was her, of course, but maybe not at first, just as readers of Consternation might not know at first that she’s the same old woman from another story.

Z’s true backstory will be revealed at another time and in another story.  (I only gave Joe Evans a glimpse at her earliest origins this past summer when I slipped him a 100 word short story the very title of which is a spoiler.  It had been a secret I’ve held for over two decades now.  I figured I owed him.)  Knowing Z’s backstory, knowing her major goals in her apparently very long life, I knew exactly what she would do if placed into this new story, given the other factors.  In fact, I saw her having a much deeper role in the mechanics of the story itself.  And, given the personality quirks of my main character, Hovelan, I knew how poorly the two of them would get on, which suggested other side stories to the main one, most of which is what the podcast excerpt covers.

As I researched and began writing, I found I had two stories that intertwined–the story of Hovelan and Zeddie, their bitter rivalry, their seeming ultimate showdown, and then the rematch over much higher stakes than either is entirely aware of; and the story of the fork.

And while there are three other important characters who appear in the story, two of which appear in the podcast excerpt, one of whom also makes an appearance elsewhere in Consternation.  But I will leave the matter there for now.  Everything you need to know is in the story itself and to write about any of them will run into spoiler territory.  Just know that there are other stories featuring most of these characters, some of which have actually been written.

As for Write Club, that was something that just kind of stopped.  I think we may have all collectively missed a deadline and were too embarrassed to acknowledge it.  And, after all, there’s that whole first rule of Writer Club thing.  (#481)  We’ve actually talked about re-starting it over the years and occasionally one of us will tell another that it’s their turn to give a prompt.  I expect we will sooner or later.  It’s not a bad idea.  I managed to get a handful of stories I’m proud of from the process, not to mention the sage advice on ways to improve them.  With my upcoming collections in various stages of completion, perhaps it’s time to head back down into the warehouse basement with the boys and chalk up our hands for more bare-knuckle writing.  (Maybe we’ll pick a better name next time.)


Author J.D. Byrne was kind enough to invite me to conduct an email interview with me for his blog.

We cover many subjects, including audiobooks, mechanics of genre stories versus non-genre (or mundane) stories, and the as yet unchronicled subject of the origin of the story in this week’s podcast, “Limited Edition,” as hinted at in the dedication of A Consternation of Monsters.

You can find it at his website, and at the link below.

EPISODE 03: “Limited Edition”

The Consternation of Monsters Podcast returns with a story of bitter rivalries, stolen opportunities, forgery, and the angel of death, set in the cut throat world of public television antiques appraisal–a world in which one of the most powerful objects is a fork.

This podcast is an excerpt of the audiobook adaptation of the short story “Limited Edition” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 03: “Limited Edition”


EPISODE 02 REDUX: “The Ones that Aren’t Crows”

The Seward Whale Strike Tragedy, they called icrowst. Twenty-five people dead. The worst accident in Alaska’s tourism history since Will Rogers’ plane went down in ‘35.  Only one man left alive knows the truth of what really happened — the man everyone agrees caused the tragedy to start with.  And if there’s one thing he’s sure of, the thing they hit that day was no whale.

Presented here is his testimony, as transcribed for an interview with Paranorm Violations Magazine.

This podcast adapts the short story “The Ones that Aren’t Crows” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 02: “The Ones that Aren’t Crows”



EPISODE 01 redux: “…to a Flame”

The Mothman of West Virginia is reported to be a winged creature, the size of a man, but wEPISODE 1: " a Flame"ith glowing red eyes.  It was reportedly witnessed on multiple occasions around the area of Point Pleasant, W.Va., during the 1960s and has been reported around the world since.  An ominous creature, its presence often seems to portend doom for those who see it.

When Virgil Hawks shoots one behind his tool shed, he knows the portents for his own future aren’t good.  He seeks help from the one man he can trust… his good buddy Jeff.

This podcast adapts the short story “…to a Flame” found in the collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 01 redux: “…to a Flame”



EPISODE 00: Foreword

The Consternation of Monsters Podcast is an ongoing project, adapting and excerpting a few of the stories found in the short story collection A Consternation of Monsters as well as the unabridged audiobook of the collection.

While many of these stories have been featured in the previous iteration of this podcast from 2015, this redux edition will feature new stories, new live readings and stage play adaptations, as well as excerpts from the official unabridged audiobook of the collection now available through, iTunes, and

This EPISODE 00 features the foreword to the book by noted paranormal radio host Rik Winston.

DOWNLOAD:  Episode 00: Foreword

 Associated Blog Entries

New audio projects for… the future

consternation-audiobook-cover-12-30-16I just finished recording the audio version of my short story “The Wise Ones,” from A Consternation of Monsters.  Unlike most of my audio efforts, this was a particularly annoying recording session because my stomach refused to stop gurgling throughout it.

I’m certain a gurgle or two will try to sneak through into the final version, but hopefully most will be excised in the upcoming editing process.

This audio version of “The Wise Ones” is not, however, for the Consternation of Monsters Podcast, though an excerpt from it may be used there yet.  Instead, I’m recording and in many cases re-recording straight up, big boy, audio book versions of all of the stories from Consternation for a forthcoming audio book project.

Thus far, I’ve recorded “The Hocco Makes the Echo,” “Nigh,” “Old Country,” “…to a Flame,” “Wolves Among Stones at Dusk,” “The Ones That Aren’t Crows,” “The Wise Ones,” and “Limited Edition.”  The two that remain are the longer stories “The King’s Last Nacho” and “Puppet Legacy.” After they’re in the can, I can start in on the editing and mastering of the whole project.

These are not the radio drama/audio book hybrid adaptations I’ve done with the podcast.  (Love them, though I do.)  Instead, they’re standard audio-book narration for the forthcoming, first quarter 2016 (um, er… 2017) audio book version of A Consternation of Monsters, to appear on and iTunes.  I figured with my recent toe-dip into the realm of audio book narration, why the heck should I not do my own audio book?  And, gurgles be damned, I’m having a blast doing it.

And speaking of my inaugural sojourn into audio book narration, The Black Star of Kingston is now on sale at, iTunes, and at the publisher’s website,  If you have young folks in your life, or just a two-hour car ride ahead of you, it’s a good `un, if I do say so, thanks to the story and characters provided by Sam Smith.  The characters and story were already there, I just tried to do vocal justice to them.

Short Straws and Merry Churtmints

The short story adapted for this week’s podcast, “Short Straw,” is not one that appears in A Consternation of Monsters.  Primarily this is because the story does not feature any actual monsters, unless you count the concept of Santa Claus or the slow march of death.  (Technically, the concept of Santa Claus does appear in A Consternation of Monsters already, mentioned in “Puppet Legacy,” but it is not within the confines of a Christmas story.  So there.)  No, it’s one of my mundane stories, meaning stories that seem to be set entirely in the real world, with no magical realism.  That said, I still wanted to do a Christmas podcast this year, so I chose my one Christmas story that I had at hand to adapt instead.

The events of “Short Straw,” as I mention this at the end of the podcast, come about as close to nonfiction as my stories tend to get.  I still classify it as fiction, because while the events depicted did indeed happen, I have no idea of the real identities of any of the people involved outside the analog characters of me and my father (Aaron and Rob) and I had to make up all the dialogue, or at the very best paraphrase it.  Plus, a minor part of the story, while still true, did not occur at that prison, or even in that state.  This is what writers do, though: weaving together strands of truth to tell a stronger tale.  Most of it was gleaned from my memory, or my memories that have been altered by the telling and retelling of this particular story by my father over the years.  I’d say, though, that the only lines of dialogue that I know for certain are verbatim from reality are probably the last two lines of dialogue in the story.

So, if you’ve not yet heard the story, go and listen to the podcast adaptation and come back to read the behind the scenes report below.


When I was a wee lad I became infatuated with detectives. Probably my first exposure to the concept of them was Sherlock Hemlock, the little green deerstalker-clad puppet from Sesame Street, who was based on Sherlock Holmes.  Not much later, my father bought me a collection called Gateway to Mystery which featured an abridged version of Conan-Doyle’s story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” which was my favorite story from that book.  I decided that I would one day be a detective myself.  I began cultivating this by carrying around a red-plastic magnifying glass, which I used to examine every clue I could find.

In December, 1976, though, life changed in the Fritzius household.  A few days following the birth of my baby sister in San Antonio, TX, my mother passed away.  Her body went into toxemia poisoning, which led to the formation of a blood clot which went to her brain.  She went into a coma and never came out.  It was a very sad time for the whole family, but my dad tried to keep my spirits up as best he could.  For almost the entire month of December, following her death, my dad would give me a new present every morning.  It was his way of trying to take my mind off things.  And those presents continued arriving each day all the way to Christmas.  One of the ones I received closest to Christmas was a noisy and obnoxious Fisher Price toy train.  (The very kind you can hear in the podcast.)  I loved it dearly and carried it with me wherever I went, showing it off at every opportunity. We were inseparable.

On Christmas Eve, my father decided to up the ante on the presents.  We had traveled from Texas to Wayne County, Mississippi, to the home of my Mamaw and Papaw.  Dad had taken me into town for some last minute Christmas shopping and it was on our way out that we passed by the Wayne County Court House, where the police department was based.  He had the idea that it would be a great present if I could meet an actual detective, so we went in to see if any were still there, accompanied, of course, by my new train.  The man at the desk, whose name I do not know, told us that the detectives had gone home for the day, but would be back on Monday, as Christmas fell on a Saturday that year.  As we were leaving, the man asked my dad if I might like to see the jail.  What followed in my memory pretty much matches the events depicted in the story.  I was asked if I wanted to try out a jail cell, and I declined.  I then met a prisoner in a single unit cell, who asked about my train and how come Santa Claus had brought it to me early.  “You be sure to tell Santa Claus to come see me,” was his departing line.  Then there was a group cell filled with probably three or four men, one of whom was indeed sitting on the toilet.  They too inquired as to my special relationship with Santa, that I might get a present early.  I proudly showed them how my train worked.  They then also told me to be sure to tell Santa Claus to come see them, to which I again did not respond.  It seemed to me that if they were in jail then they had clearly been bad, so Santa would not be paying them any visits unless it was to drop off some coal.  They didn’t even have any stockings, though.

And then, there was another man in a single cell toward the end of the row who had heard my name spoken and asked me what it was again.  He was, as my father recalls, waiting there until he could be transferred elsewhere.  I remember sensing his sadness as he told me that he had a little boy named Eric back home.  I recall sensing the weight of the moment and not knowing what to do about any of it, so I just kept quiet.  Meanwhile, my dad was practically in tears.

As we left the jail and were headed back into the hall, the prisoners, in unison the prisoners all cried out “You be sure to tell Santa Claus to come see us!”

“Okay,” I said.  “Be good.”

And to this day, despite all my comedic roles over the years, that line might have elicited the biggest laugh I’ve ever received.  It just destroyed everyone.  Probably helped set me on the path of comedic performer.

The following Christmas, a friend of my dad’s named Lucy wrote up this story as a short piece that was published in a Louisiana newspaper.  I have the clipping now, though I did not when I penned my own version.  Lucy mentions the death of the boy’s mother at the beginning, hooking the reader with some sentiment from the start.  She also fictionalized her version of the story a bit, adding the detail that my character had never seen snow and really wanted to for Christmas, but was stymied by the fact that it happens so rarely in Mississippi.  At the end of her version, as the father and son leave the jailhouse, it begins to snow.  It’s a nice bow to tie around the story.

And it was because of Lucy’s version that I resisted writing my own for many years.  I felt like Lucy had already written it and I didn’t want to appear to be trying to tell the same sentimental story twice.  Eventually, though, I decided that the story belonged to me and my dad and I was free and clear to write about my own life if I wanted to.  So, in the mid-oughts, for my writing group’s Christmas party, I wrote the first draft of the story in a couple of hours.  I stuck closer to the truth of the original events, so no snow was mentioned.  I also left out the part about my mother’s recent death prior to the story because I felt like it tread too close to playing on emotions.  The one event I included that did not take place that night was the part where Vardy spells out “A-R-M-E-D- R-O-B-B-E-R-Y” and Aaron responds “A-A-R-O-N can spell too.”  (I actually said that, but to a lady in Texas, as she was trying to spell something to my dad that she didn’t want me to understand.  I didn’t understand it then, either, but had decided to do some spelling of my own since that seemed to be what folks were doing.  She didn’t know this, though, so she was a bit shocked.)  The story was a hit.

In subsequent drafts, I added back the suggestion that the father in the story looked sad, much like Perry Pittman had following the death of his wife.  I figured that since the story was told from Vardy’s viewpoint, I couldn’t exactly reveal the details of the death without it feeling forced.  So it’s suggested.

This brings me to the matter of the names of all these characters.  Like I said, I don’t know any of them.  So I took a page from the TV show Quantum Leap.  The story goes that show creator Donald Bellissario, knowing that the 5th season’s finale would likely be the series finale, set out to write an autobiographical episode including details and characters from his childhood.  All of the characters in the show were named after people he knew.  So since I needed local names, I wove in those of folks I knew.  Vardy is the name of my Papaw’s brother, who died long before my birth.  Ezell is the name of the owner of Ezell’s Fish Camp, in Chunky, MS, (a town name I found delightfully funny as a child).  Brewer is a common name for the area, and I knew a number of them from my Mamaw’s church.  Perry Pittman is a combination of two names, as Mr. Perry was the owner of Perry’s Fishcamp, a regular after-church haunt of my grandparents’, and Pittman is the last name of my Papaw’s friend Bilbo Pittman (Velma, also mentioned, was Bilbo’s wife).  The Masons were another family from church.  Zack was named after Zackey Manning, my grandparents’ nearest neighbor.  And Bo was a man who married my mother’s cousin, who later ran a country store in the tiny town of Peov, Mississippi.

This story will likely be collected one day, as I have a number of other “mundane” stories that need a home.  It will likely also appear in an eventual collection of my Aaron stories, when I have enough of those.  In the meantime, it’s a podcast, given out for Christmas.

As my dad is fond of saying, Merry Churtmint.  And a Merry Churtmint to you and yours.

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