Tune into The Confessionals podcast and get a new perspective on the world

I have to take the opportunity to give a shameless plug to a dear family member, because, well… He’s family, and you always support family. My nephew, Tony Merkel, produces his own podcast, The Confessionals. Like me, he took what started out as a dream and turned it into an enterprise. I’ll let Tony explain how his podcast came about…

“From a very young age, Tony Merkel was fascinated by all things strange and mysterious.  Growing up in rural Pennsylvania afforded him a childhood spent playing in the woods, where mysteries only tend to deepen.  From Bigfoot to extraterrestrials to the Loch Ness monster, Tony always wondered at the unexplained. 

“As an adult with the Internet at his fingertips, Tony was able to further explore his lifelong fascination with the unexplained.  With an initial focus on Bigfoot, he sought out the Bigfoot community with podcasts like the Sasquatch Chronicles and local Facebook groups to learn more about the elusive creature.  Throughout his search for truths, one thing became certain— he was not alone in his pursuit.

“In 2016, Tony originally created The Confessionals on YouTube as a video platform where people could give voice to the strange, extraordinary things they experienced. His YouTube channel attracted worldwide attention, which was followed by a phone call from a leading member of the cryptid community.  Seeing value in Tony’s endeavors, they encouraged him to take his work to the next level.  After revamping his creation with eyewitness accounts, narrated stories, and expert guests, The Confessionals was officially reborn as a podcast.”

From The Confessionals story

Tony was always a great supporter of me during my military career and in my career as an author. I was honored when he invited me on his podcast to talk about some of my own personal paranormal experiences from the Navy, both on ships and in a house I once rented in Massachusetts. We also talked about the books in the Forever Avalon fantasy books series and other personal experiences. It was a thrill to relive these moments with Tony. I can’t believe we talked as long as we did. You can listen to the entire podcast at The Confessionals or listen below!

The Confessionals “333: Ghost of the USS Forrestal” podcast

If you are into the paranormal, supernatural, and the unexplained, I encourage you to sign up and become a member of The Confessionals to get all the inside information. Believe me, you’ll learn about things you neve dreamed possible. I know I did!

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers. His next two fantasy novels, The Last Magus: A Clockwork Heart and The Prometheus Engine: Book 4 of the Forever Avalon Series are being released in 2021.

The best fantasy/scifi movies you never watched, but you should

There are plenty of inspirations when it comes to fantasy and science fiction. Most people have their favorites, i.e. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc. Me, I’m a little old school. My obsession with the fantasy and sci-fi genre began with movies many people today either haven’t seen, forgot or ignored. In any case, each one of these movies has a unique charm about them (for lack of a better term) making them a must-see for any fan or geek. These are my personal picks, so I would love to hear whether you agree or disagree. Either way, I hope you’ll take some “COVID19 down time” to watch some or all of these classics.

The Final Countdown (1980) — This is a kick-ass, “Red, White, & Blue” Hell-yah,  U-S-A, movie with a simple science fiction twist. The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is sent back in time to days before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It has an all-star cast ( Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katharine Ross and Charles Durning) but the real star is the U.S. Navy. As a young man, looking to his future after high school, this movie made me want to sign up.  The filming from the flight deck to the sky above, seeing two F-14 Tomcats take on Japanese Zeroes, was epic. This is not your average science fiction movie, but the whole time travel aspect was so well done and wrapped up nicely at the end.

The Black Cauldron poster.jpgThe Black Cauldron (1985) — This is a Disney film, but its one of the darkest Disney films they ever made. The plot is your basic boy becomes hero by defeating the evil sorcerer, your usual fantasy genre yarn, but the visuals of this film are stunning. Something I didn’t know was that it was loosely based on the first two books in The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, a series of five novels that are, in turn, based on Welsh mythology. Set in the mythical land of Prydain during the Early Middle Ages, the film centers on the evil Horned King who hopes to secure an ancient magical cauldron that will aid him in his desire to conquer the world. He is opposed by a young pigherder named Taran, the princess Eilonwy, a bard and a wild creature named Gurgi who seek to destroy the cauldron. This was Disney’s 25th animated feature, the first animated film to receive a PG rating, and it doesn’t get the props like Disney’s other animated films because of the dark storyline. No matter what, this is a great fantasy movie to see.

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) — In the age when every movie wanted to look like and have the success of Star Wars, this movie fits the bill to a “T” and then some. Staring Richard Thomas (John Boy from The Waltons TV series) and produced by the genius Roger Corman, this movie had every science fiction movie trope in it, including the kitchen sink. Corman intended this movie to be a remake of the classic The Magnificent Seven but set in outer space. It had a stellar cast, from the legendary John Saxon and George Peppard to Robert Vaughn, and the effects were as expected for 1980, pre-CGI. The story follows the expected plot… The farming world Akir is threatened by the tyrannical warlord Sador (Saxon). Sador’s huge dreadnaught has a “Stellar Converter”, a weapon that turns planets into small stars. He demands that the peaceful Akira submit to him or he will turn his Stellar Converter on their planet. They want to hire mercenaries to protect their world, but since Akir lacks valuable resources, its people can offer just food and shelter in payment. Shad (Thomas) volunteers for the recruiting mission. It is a strange movie, full of Corman’s classic sci-fi tropes,  including a Space Cowboy, half-dressed Valkyrie warrior, an elite assassin, and a reptilian slaver, but it is well laid out and fun to watch.

The Black Hole.jpgThe Black Hole (1979) — Yet another Disney film that  has been relegated to the void that is the Disney vault due to its dark and violent nature. Another great cast ( Maximilian Schell, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Yvette Mimieux, Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine) fills the screen with astounding visuals of a black hole in space, before Interstellar. The Palomino, nearing the end of its deep space mission, discovers a black hole in space with a large spaceship nearby, somehow defying the hole’s massive gravitational pull. The ship is identified as the long-lost USS Cygnus. Deciding to investigate, the Palomino encounters a mysterious null gravity field surrounding the Cygnus. What they find on board is far worse… Dr. Hans Reinhardt, a brilliant scientist, and what appears to be a crew of robots. They are not faceless drones, but are in fact the human crew who mutinied when Reinhardt refused to return to Earth and had been lobotomized and “reprogrammed” by Reinhardt to serve him and his floating murder-bot Maximilian. Again, a very dark movie for Disney that was not well received by critics but earned two Academy award nominations for cinematography and visual effects.

Dragonslayer (1981) — This movie is very familiar to anyone who played Dungeons and Dragons in the 80’s, but it is not seen as a top-rated movie like LOTR and others. It should be. Dragonslayer gave us our first look at a dragon, an honest to God dragon and all its power and glory. Before there was CGI, there was GoMotion, created by Industrial, Light and Magic for The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and other classic movies of the 80s. In this movie, we got a dragon named Vermithrax that was everything you expected it to be… Evil, deadly, and downright terrifying. Another great cast (Peter MacNicol, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam and Caitlin Clarke) fills out this epic tale of a young apprentice taking on the beast to prove himself worthy as a sorcerer against a King who for years has placated the dragon with a virgin sacrifice. This is a worthy fantasy epic and a must see movie!

Deathstalker (1983) - Rotten TomatoesDeathstalker (1983) — The last movie on my list is another 80’s Roger Corman classic, filled with your favorite fantasy genre movie tropes just like he did in Battle Beyond the Stars. It’s a very Conan-esque movie, with buff men in leather, scantily-clad women, swords and sorcerers. It spawned four sequels, but this is the one to watch. Against, a basic storyline of sword-wielding mercenary on a quest to retrieve four magical items to stop a sorcerer from destroying his world. Along the way, he meets other warriors entering a tournament to find the greatest warrior and gain control over the kingdom. It’s not Shakespeare but it has all the qualities of a sword/sorcerer movie of the 80’s. It fits right in with The Beastmaster, Conan the Barbarian, and other fantasy movies of that time. Corman is a genius of the screen when it comes to movies like these.

So again, these are far from the Oscar-worthy movies you normally think of in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, but they have all the elements you think of when you watch these movies. I would love to hear about your favorites that I might have missed in my list, please comment and let me know.

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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and iUniverse Publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available from Austin Macauley Publishing.

The long and winding road of a writer

fbac5ca9ef50d6449e3d12cd77372890My journey as a writer has been a long and tumultuous one. It’s something I never really considered for myself as a teenager, or even through my 20+ year Navy career. I wanted to talk to you about my journey to hopefully explain how being a writer can come right out of left field, until you realize that it was meant to be.

Set the “Wayback Machine” for 1976, Sherman. As a high school freshman at Phillipsburg High School, NJ (Go Stateliners!) I was focused on art. My goal was to be the next Jack Kirby. I wanted to work for Marvel or DC, write and draw my own comic books. I drove my parents and my teachers crazy with my constant comic book drawing when they were trying to teach me pastels and painting. While I was in high school, I also joined the school newspaper and yearbook staff, learning some valuable skills that would help me later in life.

After high school, I enrolled in the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Again, my goal was to hone my art skills to become a comic book artist, but that never came to fruition. Trying to live away from home for the first time, I wasn’t able to manage money or my time properly. I had no choice but to drop out of school, even enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh. There, I joined the college radio station and learned some more valuable skills for down the road. Yet again, I mismanaged things and was forced to drop out and return home to Jersey.

I look back at that time and wonder where I went wrong. I would love to talk to my younger self and tell me it’s going to be all right, but it didn’t seem like it at that time. I moved back into my parent’s house with no job prospects, no college either. So what to do?

My Dad, the 22-year career Marine, pointed me right towards the recruiters’ office. I knew I didn’t want to join the Marines, like my Dad and brother. The Army tried to push infantry and tank driver on me for big bonuses. The Air Force wasn’t really interested as I was looking at non-technical jobs. The Navy, on the other hand, gave me what I was looking for.

I joined the Navy as a Journalist, where my earlier training in broadcasting and writing came in handy. I attended the Defense Information School, or DINFOS, and became what we affectionately call a “DINFOS Trained Killer” with typewriter in hand. After 23 years, I turned that training into a military career.

During my time as a military journalist, I’ve written hundreds of articles that were published in military publications, local newspapers and even a few national newspapers. Seeing your byline in the Miami Herald and Navy Times can be a life-changing experience for a young journalist. It was also during that time that I started working on my novel, Forever Avalon.

This may seem like a round-about way of getting to the fact that I was writing all along, but it really wasn’t. When I was in high school, I augmented my drawing time with writing, creating stories to go with my characters or writing for the school newspaper. In college, I was forced to do only art and that, I feel, made me lose my way because I wasn’t able to write. In the Navy, I wrote mostly press releases and news stories but found the time to write feature stories in addition to starting my novel.

All that time I spent on other things that I was mediocre to average, when writing kept pushing and jabbing at me until it finally broke through. I am a writer and I’m damn proud of it. I will keep writing until you pry the keyboard from my cold, dead hands. (Wow, I should put that on a t-shirt!)

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51nd6H6sATL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_SKU-000941753Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The Dark Tides is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverseThe Outlander War can be previewed at Inkitt.

Lessons learned from a 23-year career in the U.S. Navy

I can honestly say that I never intended to join the Navy when I graduated high school. I pictured myself as the next Stan Lee or Jack Kirby, fixated on attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and becoming a comic book artist. It was my first time living away from home and I made a lot of mistakes that eventually brought me right back home with Mom and Dad. Needless to say, my prospects of getting into another college or even a job were slim. That was when my retired U.S. Marine Corps father suggested (for lack of a better term) joining the military.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea but there weren’t many options for me. You see, I come from a military family. My Mom and Dad were in the Navy and Marines respectively. My brother, sister-in-law, two uncles were Marines, one uncle and a cousin were Sailors and my grandfather served in the Navy in World War II.

Chief Journalist Mark Piggott aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) circa 2002.

Chief Journalist Mark Piggott aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) circa 2002.

The one thing I wanted was a career and training, and the U.S. Navy offered me all of that. As a Navy Journalist, I learned writing, broadcasting, photography, graphic design and public relations. Over the years, I travelled halfway around the world and back, visited many foreign countries and experienced cultures far and wide. Like they advertised, “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure!”

Those experiences resonate through my “Forever Avalon” and “The Dark Tides” novels. Bryan Drake went from a Chief Petty Officer, a leader of men, to the champion and protector of an entire island. It’s the same feelings all veterans feel–duty, honor, courage and responsibility–that made Bryan give up his family and his home to become Lord Bryan MoonDrake, the Gil-Gamesh. He put the people of Avalon ahead of his own personal needs.

Even after his family was brought to Avalon years later, he was torn between his responsibility to his family and his duty to Avalon. This is something the men and women of the armed forces go through each and every day.

Everytime I had to say good-bye to my wife and kids, I felt like I was abandoning them by leaving them on their own. It’s not easy when you have to leave them for six months to a year at a time, missing birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. That’s what made the homecomings so much more sweeter and rewarding.

It’s that same spirit of selfless devotion to duty that I tried to instill in the Gil-Gamesh. He is a warrior, tried and true, ready to fight for what he believes in; but deep-down, he’s a family man at heart, whose love for his wife and kids is the only thing that keeps him going. I think anyone who wore the uniform knows that feeling.

The Navy gave me a great education and great experiences, but it was always coming home to my family that meant the most to me. The Gil-Gamesh has that same drive and determination, coming from a long line of warriors who put duty to Avalon above all else. Remember, faith and family gives us the courage to face our fears and do what’s right.