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The Scariest Part: Dean and Giasone Italiano Talk about THE STARVING QUEEN and FROM SKULL TAVERN

This week on The Scariest Part, my very special guests are Dean and Giasone “G” Italiano, founders of the multimedia production company P.I.C. Publishing. Dean and G are dear friends of mine whom I’ve known for over fifteen years now, and I’m delighted to feature them talking about two of their newest projects, the music CD From Skull Tavern and the novel The Starving Queen, of which this is the description:

Jasmine faces more tragic events than the average teen. Her overworked mother, Bev, doesn’t see her enough, and visiting her dad, “Slip,” often makes things worse. Even Jasmine’s deepening relationship with her boyfriend Jason can’t lift her spirits enough, and depression seeps in.

The Queen relishes the descent into misery, and she wants Jasmine. The Queen hunts the lonely and dejected, pulling victims into her Kingdom. Her bony hand is invisible while covering Jasmine’s mouth, the stench of her world’s black sludge and the eerie sound of her voice only penetrates the minds of her loyal subjects.

Family and friends can’t see the Queen, but they are worried as they watch Jasmine drift even further out of reach.

…And closer to the Queen.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Dean and Giasone both:

Dean Italiano

The Starving Queen started out as a short story back in 2003. Throughout the years, the story has taken on various forms and lengths until I reached a full novel length worthy of editing.

The Queen is a ten-foot tall skeleton who reaches into the real world and strips flesh off of her loyal subjects. This allows her to add flesh to her own frame to become physically stronger and live forever. The reader is shown how the Queen operates through two main characters, Jasmine and Jason, as they fumble through difficult times in their young lives.

But that’s not the scariest part. When writing this story, it was important for me to blur the lines between reality and the Queen’s world full of dark sludge and strict rules. In the real world, the rules we give ourselves become sacred so that we may become better people, successful, or simply acceptable. When we break our own rules, we feel like failures and become even harder on ourselves. But what if those rules came from an unhealthy place? A self-abusive place, where mental illness slips in unseen, silent and stealthy. That’s the Queen reaching in, taking a little tendril of skin here and there, still reasonable, still something that people would applaud you for doing. “You’ve lost some weight! You look fabulous!” Or, “I admire how hard you push yourself to get in shape.”

The psychological element of the Queen, to me, is terrifying. It happens every day to millions of people. She sneaks in, slowly gains power to the point of taking over, becoming dangerous, and then deadly.

I also worked with G on the new CD, From Skull Tavern. There’s a song that started out as highly experimental. “Bad Hair Day” is a tie-in with The Staving Queen novel, an example of what it’s like to live with a mental illness. We toyed with the idea of making it full of vocal tracks, singing and vocal sound effects, but it wasn’t clicking. When we went to apply music to the idea, it became musically scary to perform. If any musicians listen to the song, they will recognize the musical breakdown that happens. I suspect not everyone will catch it.

The scariest part for me was trying to vocalize a mental breakdown, and trying to show that even the smallest, most menial daily tasks can seem insurmountable. I wasn’t sure if I’d be successful with the lyrics, the vocal performance, or if what I hoped would be a frantic piece would just flop and end up sounding like screaming nonsense.

For both projects, I hope I did the subject matter justice.

Giasone Italiano

The album started as an idea; let’s write songs about scary monsters. We set out to make an anthology about iconic and creepy things, and tried to represent as many classic and cool monsters as we could. We had many ideas that never made it past a title and a few lines, and others that we flushed out into full songs. As it turns out, the scariest monster on the CD is not a movie monster after all. In the first verse of “I See Red”, we meet a killer who you don’t even know is a threat:

“It’s like any other day
Until my fingers start to twitch
I need a special kind of scratch
For a special kind of itch
I’m in your rear-view mirror
I’m behind you in a line
Walking past you in the subway
I always bide my time”

In this day and age of 24-hour news and instant information, the stories that upset me the most are the ones about seemingly “normal” human beings doing unspeakable acts of cruelty and violence. On our CD, the scariest monster is the one that you don’t see coming until it is too late.

The Starving Queen: Amazon / Kobo / In print direct from P.I.C. Publishing

From Skull Tavern: Amazon / iTunes / Spotify / On CD direct from P.I.C. Publishing

P.I.C. Publishing: Website / Dean’s Facebook / Dean’s Twitter / Giasone’s Facebook

Dean and Giasone Italiano live with their twin boys in Waterloo, Ontario. Dean has been publishing novels, short stories and poetry since 2001. Giasone has been performing and writing music as a solo artist or in bands since 1994. Together, they are P.I.C. Publishing, and have recently released The Starving Queen, the From Skull Tavern CD, and The Narrowing (a one-act play chapbook).

Doctor Who: “The Lie of the Land”

I’m sorry to say it, but “The Lie of the Land” is the worst episode of Doctor Who in quite some time. This whole three-episode arc involving the Monks has been a real nadir for the 10th season, which started off so promisingly, and this final episode in the trilogy is the worst of them. Everything I thought was interesting about the Monks is left unaddressed. They’re shape-shifters, so what does their natural form look like? We don’t get to see. Their ship is camouflaged as a pyramid, so what does it actually look like? We don’t get to see. Why do the Monks require someone’s consent to invade a planet, given their enormous power and ability to control minds? We get a hand-wavy explanation about needing the brain waves of the one who gives the consent in order to broadcast their mind control to the populace, despite the fact that the one who gave the consent this time, Bill, seems to be the only one who can resist the mind control, even though it’s her brain that’s transmitting it…oh, never mind. It doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Honestly, though, very little in “The Lie of the Land” makes any sense. The Doctor and Bill enter the vault to talk to Missy, whereupon we discover the vault, which we saw rise out of the water on the executioners’ planet as a complete metal cube, is apparently dimensionally transcendent like a TARDIS, with the inside looking like, well, an unused wing of the university, with a piano at the center surrounded by a protective force field. How the vault is dimensionally transcendent is left unexplained, maybe it’s Gallifreyan technology, although I had assumed it belonged to the executioners, not the Time Lords. Anyway, Missy tells the Doctor how to defeat the Monks because she’s met them before on her own adventures, but the Doctor doesn’t take her advice because it would result in Bill going brain dead. So Bill defeats the Monks in a different way, one that doesn’t make any sense involving memories of her departed mother, but her sacrifice works, except she’s fine afterward, not brain dead at all. The script doesn’t even bother handwaving that one away. There’s no explanation given.

Not that it mattered to me, because I’d already checked out of the episode long before then, following an absolutely ridiculous scene where Bill and Nardole rescue the Doctor from his shipboard prison. As tests go, the one the Doctor puts Bill through makes no sense — even he can barely explain it afterward — and the fake regeneration scene was so mind-bogglingly stupid that my interest just shut off instantly. So I guess the news is that the Doctor can fake a regeneration now? Glad it came in handy, I guess, but what was the point of it? For whose benefit was it faked? Not for Bill’s — she doesn’t know what regeneration is or even looks like. Not for the Monks — it’s clear they’re not watching the Doctor, since he immediately reveals his plan right after. Why does it happen at all?

The scenes with Missy and the scenes with Nardole were the only signs of life in this clunker. I’m interested in Missy’s path toward “becoming good,” which I’m pretty sure won’t stick, and Nardole continues to be amusing when he’s not being an unnecessary killjoy. Speaking of Missy, even though her scenes were enjoyable, she’s really a wasted opportunity. Imagine how much better this episode would have been if they’d let her out of her prison to fight the Monks herself. Instead, we’re subjected to Bill’s memory of her mother “going viral” and forty-four other minutes of risible nonsense.