Word of the Night: Pusillanimous

I’m bringing back a little feature called “Word of the Night”. Bascially, I take Dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day” and discuss it’s relevance in my pop culture wheelhouse: sci-fi, action thrillers and suspense.   Think of it as Vocabulary 101 meets Thats’ Entertainment!

So without further ado, I give you:

pusillanimous   \ pyoo-suh-LAN-uh-muhs \ , adjective;

  1. lacking courage or resolution; cowardly; faint-hearted; timid.
  2. proceeding from or indicating a cowardly spirit.

The first image that comes to my mind, and I bet I’m not alone here, is the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz.


This immediate association suggests that pusillanimous is not necessarily synonymous with villainous. In fact, a character overcoming a history of cowardice or a paralyzing primal fear is often celebrated as a climatic act of heroism. Standing up to a bully is a classic example of someone triumphing over their pusillanimous tendencies. How about Celie’s showdown with Mistah in The Color Purple? Or Ralphie letting loose his pent up rage in a cathartic pummeling in a Christmas Story.


On the other hand, sci-fi and disaster movies love to pull the mask off their villains, revealing sniveling, self-serving weasels who reap their just rewards. Richard Chamberlain’s smarmy, corrupt architect in The Towing Inferno comes to mind, as well as Paul Riser’s twitchy, perspiring corporate hack from Aliens.rd0026


It’s all the more satisfying from a structural perspective when the main character’s actions lead to the coward’s downfall. If you look up pusillanimous in the dictionary, and I did, by all rights there should be photograph of Martin Sheen’s Greg Stillson from The Dead Zone.



Born to Carve?

Bruce Pumpkin

How could I not love Springsteen? I grew up working and playing in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where The Boss ruled (and still does). But the good folks at Backstreets reeeaalllly love Springsteen — and who can blame them? Backstreets is the world’s largest community of Springsteen fans, so you can imagine how chuffed I was to learn that they dug my books.

Aubrey, the heroine of my serial killer thriller novel The Lineman, is a huge Springsteen fan. References to Bruce pop up throughout the book. I even took a little creative license with Bruce, as we fiction writers are apt to do: in Aubrey’s universe, Springsteen re-records Wichita Lineman, originally made famous by Glen Campbell. (A little wishful thinking on my part. Are you listening, Bruce?)

In Asbury Dark, my collection of short stories, a tale titled “The Circuit” finds a middle-aged man hearing “Born to Run” on the radio for the first time, and he is deeply affected.

I’m so proud to announce that Backstreets is giving away copies of Asbury Dark as prizes in their Bruce Springsteen pumpkin carving contest. So take a knife and slice up your most creative Springsteen-inspired gourd and send a picture to Backstreets. The First Prize winner gets some impressive Springsteen swag along with my book. But you only have until noon on Thursday, October 310, 2014 to enter. Hurry and get the full deets here.

Kirkus Reviews Weighs in on Asbury Dark

“The collection reaches its summit with “Eminent Domain,” a fantastic yarn in which a “zombie march” of costumed revelers on the Asbury Park boardwalk comes to a halt when cadavers from a macabre art exhibit decide to make actual zombies out of the participants. Bonfitto breathes new life into this story of the undead, and although it’s violent (as the zombies munch on human flesh), it’s much less graphic than similar tales. But although “Eminent Doman” sharply contrasts with the YA style of “The Scorekeeper,” both fit in quite nicely in this eclectic collection.

Short stories for readers who like their horror tales diverting and diverse.” – Kirkus Reviews

Check out the rest here.

Carol or Carrie? Who’s Going to Watch the Kids?

It’s election season again. In a few weeks we go to the polls and pull the lever for the person we think will best represent our interests in the various arenas of government. I remember one campaign years ago when a Bush was running for president. Bruce Willis gave an interview explaining his method of choosing a candidate. “I just turned to Demi,” he said (I guess it was the elder Bush) “and I asked her, which one of these guys would you trust to watch the kids?”

Seems like a pretty good litmus test. Security is always one of the biggest concerns when backing a potential leader. In a contest of Sunday night TV heroines, there are two contenders vying for our viewership and loyalty. But which one would we select to protect those near and dear to us when zombies and terrorists come knocking?

Carol Peletier of AMC’s The Walking Dead has suddenly emerged as the “it” girl in action show badassery. She wrestles the crown away from Carrie Mathison, the surviving protagonist of the Showtime thriller Homelandcarol2

A quick scan of the internet reveals a clear media bias for Walking Dead’s Carol, who not only infiltrated the gated Terminus in a cloak of walker guts and gore, she ignited the explosion that freed her friends and whipped Star Trek’s Tasha Yar in hand-to-hand combat.

In the wake of her season premiere heroics, I googled just the name “Carol” to see what would come up. Sure enough, the first three hits were Walking Dead-centric, with headlines like, “Carol Is the Hero of the Zombie Apocalypse” and “Walking Dead’s McBride Takes Pride in Carol”.

Carrie Mathison didn’t appear until the second page of results when googling just the name “Carrie”. In contrast to Carol’s glowing reviews, the CIA’s embattled savant garnered headlines like “Carrie Mathison is Homeland’s Biggest Problem” and “The Case Against Carrie Mathison”.

Clearly, Carol’s stock is up. Even the shippers have abandoned the Homeland ship in favor of The Walking Dead, rooting more than ever for a Carol/Darryl consummation while the prospect of a Carrie/Quinn romance draws a yawn and a shrug.  Carrie

But suppose you woke up tomorrow in a fictitious one-hour episodic drama. The world you know has been thrown into chaos and danger lurks everywhere. You have to make a run to the highway to syphon fuel from abandoned tankers, or cross the border to help a double agent escape a hostile regime. Who are you going to leave the kids with? Carol or Carrie?

It’s only been a week since we anxiously watched Carrie battle the temptation of infanticide. As she held daughter Frannie’s carrot top precariously above the bath water, it was clear Carrie wasn’t suffering from post-partum psychosis, or a manic episode brought on from being off her meds. What else are we to conclude from the wild look in her eyes? Carrie was internally debating the conflict of job versus motherhood, and for a split second, drowning Brody’s kid seemed like a viable option. Fortunately for Frannie’s sake, Carrie realized there was another out. As long as she had her sister to dump on, her career and her child could continue to co-exist, at least for this season. Still, it’s hard to shake off Carrie’s Medea moment. Even Walter White wouldn’t harm his own child.

When it comes to dealing with inconvenient children, however, Carol doesn’t win any prizes. Will Walking Dead fans ever be able to look at flowers again without first checking to see who’s standing behind them? In last season’s most powerful episode, Carol started out as co-caretaker of three children, Rick’s baby daughter Judith, and the pre-adolescent sisters Lizzie and Mika. By the end, two out of three were dead.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Carol chose to end Lizzie’s life rather than risk managing the girl’s psychotic tendencies. You could argue that Carol didn’t have a choice, since having killed her younger sister, Lizzie represented a continuous threat to Judith and any community of survivors she ended up with.

carol flowersBut in a world where zombies or marauding humans could pop up at any second, how do two adults go off by themselves and leave three small children alone?  I don’t care that the writers needed to have a Carol and Tyrese bonding moment. This was the worst case of on-screen caregiver neglect since three-year-old Drew Barrymore was left home alone to draw her own bath in E.T. Sure, we knew E.T. was in the house, but Gerty’s Mom didn’t know that when she left to pick up Elliot at school. Psychopath or not, Lizzie and Mika would both be alive in season five if Carol or Tyrese had been doing their jobs. You would think having lost Sophia, Carol would have a better handle on this.

So, as much as I am currently riding high on the “Carol Rules” bandwagon, I would have to think twice before asking her to babysit on Saturday night. If Carrie Mathison had been tasked with minding The Walking Dead kids, she would have had Tyrese stay with them while she went solo into the woods and killed the deer herself. Then she would have returned to the cabin and given Lizzie some tips on ugly crying. In a fight for survival, perhaps cunning intelligence trumps maternal instincts. As long as the children are already bathed, I have to go with Carrie. She can protect them better, even if the greatest threat is herself. Carrie baby