NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – new novelization available for preorder!

My first novel, a new novelization of George Romero and John R. Russo’s classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is now available for preorder! I’m so excited about this! I’ve wanted to write fiction for ages, and thanks to a small publishing company, I got the chance!

To support local bookstores, I’ve decided to do all my pre-release sales via Dark Delicacies website. Dark Delicacies is THE horror and genre bookstore in the LA area. Each copy ordered from them will be signed by yours truly and shipped to your door…


You can come pick it up in person (or buy one in person) at my signing event on November 5th! 2pm, Dark Delicacies, 3512 W. Magnolia Blvd. Burbank, CA 91505.

Hope to see you there!


I’m Still Not Dead!

Okay, so it’s been a year. But a busy one! My main accomplishment is surviving the second year of the Hollins Playwrights Lab MFA program. I love, love, love it but dang! The work is hard! In one semester I wrote a billion plays, and here are their titles:

GHOST BICYCLE (full length)
LUMBER JACKED! (one-act)
SPACE BABY (one-act)
THE SKY IS FALLING (ten-minute)
A SMALL DONATION (ten-minute)
THE ISLAND (one-act)

I know that’s absolutely impossible to believe, but trust me – grown up theater summer camp does NOT play. I’ll add these to my list on the plays page once they’ve all had a good rewrite….


It’s been awhile since I last updated – I’ve been a busy little beaver! The main news is – I’ve started my MFA in Playwriting grad program at the Hollins Playwrights Lab at Hollins University in Roanoke, VA! Very excited about this. Also had my web guy, Mike Ross, do some redesigns to the site (welcome, mobile device users!), and updated a bunch of content.


OUT IN THE DARK now available!

My new book, OUT IN THE DARK: INTERVIEWS WITH GAY HORROR FILMMAKERS, ACTORS AND AUTHORS, is now available in print and all ebook versions! Start at the Amazon link, but you can find all the various ebooks at their various ebook sites.

You’ll find interviews with:

out in the dark final covers-02-1

AIDS/LifeCycle and the return of sincerity

During my first year as a roadie for AIDS/LifeCycle (2012), I experienced a profound transformation, from outside observer of myself to embedded participant in my life. Hard work, thousands of supportive ALCers, the memory of my best friend Joey, and countless moments of “Welcome to our community” pried me open, allowing my heart to be filled with joy and purpose. I’m so grateful for the experience. (You can read my ALC 2012 wrap up here.)

It’s a year later, and I’ve just returned from AIDS/LifeCycle 2013. My second year as a roadie has once again provided a transformative experience – the return of undiluted sincerity to my life.

I didn’t realize this was the case until about a week after the ride, when I ran into my friend Gaetano at the grocery store. He’s a single man pursuing adoption via fostering children. When we met at the store he was shopping with the two girls he’s been fostering for the past six months. We talked about how hard he’s had to fight to keep the children, and how hopeful he is now that there’s possibly light at the end of the tunnel. I was really moved by his commitment to these kids, and before we parted I hugged him and told him exactly that.

As I moved in to embrace him, the act of making this sincere gesture felt right. But a split second later a thought flashed through my mind – “Wait a minute, this feels awfully sincere for Ralph’s.”

And it was at that moment I realized AIDS/LifeCycle had changed me in a very fundamental way…again. Because as quickly as that thought entered my brain, “So what?” pushed it right out, and I hugged my friend and told him what a rock star I thought he was.

Before the end of the 2013 Ride I could already feel the change brewing. Obviously, I was having a great time from minute one. But on Day Five I had the privilege of speaking to the ALC community about my experiences as a roadie. I incorporated some of my 2012 wrap up in the beginning, and added thoughts I’d had during the months of fundraising for 2013 to the end:

I’ve had people ask me why I worked so hard to raise money for ALC. As most of you probably know, roadies aren’t required to fundraise. I’m assuming the reason is our service to the Ride is considered our donation. But I don’t see it that way. As far as I’m concerned, the only difference between the riders and the roadies is the job we do each day. Some people’s job is to pedal a bike; some people’s job is to haul garbage. Yes, the riders are the face of the Ride, but the roadies are the skeleton. You need both to accomplish we we’re all here to do.

The money we raise is used to comfort people, to heal people that are sick. But the ride itself – it healed me of my cynicism, and healed the hole in my heart by putting Joey back there where he belongs. And it comforts me that each year thousands of people have this same experience, and hold the Ride in their hearts when they go back into the world.

I don’t consider my participation on the Ride as a favor I’m doing for AIDS/LifeCycle. I consider it a privilege to be of service to all of you, with the selfish benefit of absorbing all of the amazing things the Ride has to offer.

This is not hyperbole – I worked harder on ALC 2012 than I’ve ever worked in my life. And I had an amazing time. I made a difference every day for seven days. I am a roadie. And after AIDS/LifeCycle 2012, I know without a doubt I belong here.”

The speech went over really well – everybody laughed and (I’m told) cried in all the right places. The next day a roadie, Nora, came up to me at dinner. She told me about a member of her family that had passed from AIDS, and how she and her extended family either were, or had been, participants on the Ride. She started to cry as she told me how much my words meant to her, and how I was an inspiration to her.

In the not-too-distant past, I would have listened, smiled, but my jaw would have been clenched and I would secretly be wishing for the moment to be over. This kind of emotional display would make me uncomfortable in its sincerity – I wouldn’t have had the capacity to receive this moment, and that would make me fear it.

But on this day, without thinking twice I reached out for Nora’s hand and held it, then looked into her eyes as she cried and thanked me. Nora trusted me with the gift of her feelings, and I returned the favor with tears of my own. We were in a tent filled with hundreds of other people, and not only didn’t I care who was watching, the thought never crossed my mind. This wasn’t a moment to be feared; it was a moment to treasure, and I will.

I spent a week on the road in an emotional safe space, where honoring people’s emotions by receiving them, undiluted, didn’t just feel good, it felt expected.

Alexandra Billings is a good friend of mine, as well as one of the people for whom I participate in ALC. A year or so ago we went and saw A Star Is Born (Garland version, natch) on the big screen, and she was in tears for most of the film. During the intermission we talked as she cried and smoked on the sidewalk, and she said, “I’ve been through too much in my life to be afraid of having emotional moments in public.”

As of AIDS/LifeCycle 2013, I couldn’t agree more.

ALC Reason square
Photo credit: Rey Rey Cervantes (Rey Rey’s Photography) and Brendan McWeeney (A Bear Knows Photos)

Shape Shifter

After working on my musical WELCOME TO THE AFTERLIFE! (fka ANGELS and ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH) for almost two years, I finally had the opportunity to stage a fully-funded workshop production up at California State University Stanislaus. The premise of the show is simple – the audience is dead and on their way to the Afterlife. While they wait for their paperwork to be completed, a group of angels entertains and informs them with a musical revue. Fun for the whole family!

As John Mayer, chair of the CSU Theater department, was casting the show (I wasn’t there, all shows are cast at the beginning of the semester), he cautioned me to keep my expectations realistic. “We don’t have the talent pool of some universities. And we’ve never done a musical without the participation of the music department. So you’re going to be doing a lot of teaching when you get here to direct…”

Up until that moment I hadn’t considered the teaching aspect of directing a show at a university. Sure, yes, “teaching” would happen. But my goal for the production was to give my script a good shake and fix what wasn’t solid. Teach? Like, really teach? I’d avoided teaching for years, mainly because I felt there wasn’t anything in which I was so well-versed I could teach without feeling like a complete fraud.

But the universe had other plans, and two different moments during my time at CSU would change a standard directing gig into a transformative experience.


As I made the five-hour drive to scenic Turlock, CA (home of CSU Stanislaus), I reached out to my friend Alexandra, an amazing teacher with legions of students who adored her. She gave me a simple piece of advice – “Remember, the best teachers teach by doing.”

I agreed with this in principle, but had a hard time parsing the meaning fine enough to apply to my situation. Alexandra teaches acting. How do I “do” when I’m directing? Certainly not line readings. I was rolling this around in my head as I walked into one of our first rehearsals a week later when a thought struck me. “If I want them to be fearless, I have to be fearless.” This is not hyperbole – I stopped in my tracks. It was as if the thought had manifested itself physically in my body, and I had to stop moving for a moment to readjust. As I stood there, I thought, “Yes, yes, yes! That feels absolutely right!” I was on to something. But after the first rush of “Eureka!” still I was left with the central question – how do I “do” fearless as a director to inspire fearless in the actor?

Despite that unanswered question, as of that moment, I was a different person. My intentions changed. As my preconceived idea of myself shattered, the pieces started to fall into place.


A few days later, as I was driving back to Los Angeles on our first weekend off from rehearsal, up popped Christian talk radio. Normally I would change the station immediately. But before I could turn the dial, I heard the host say, “…and God created the angels to be of service to man.” Wow, that’s the premise of my musical! I figured this was a sign to keep listening, so I did for a few moments. As the host droned on and on (Don’t Christian radio hosts, if they aren’t fire and brimstone, always drone on and on?), I realized the purpose for my time at CSU was right there in my own script – I was there to be of service to these students.

In that moment I realized what Alexandra meant by “doing.” “Doing” in this context meant to be open to input, criticism, knowledge, new ways of tacking problems, experiences of others – all things expected of actors, and now of me as well. By unabashedly opening myself up to the process, being fearlessly willing to fail as a director in front of my cast in the pursuit of success, I would be teaching by example. Yes, while I was there I would workshop my show. But the reason I was there was to help a group of people leap off a cliff…by leaping off first.

A good performance can be created out of any number of things – imagined back story, Viewpoints exercises, good old fashioned pretending, etc. But the basis of a great performance is always being open to being great. I had to be open to being a great teacher, and in turn, hopefully, the students would follow. I expanded in a way I can’t explain when I realized I didn’t have to have all the answers, I just had to be there to guide the students to discovering them for themselves. Here’s the edge. I’m going to leap off. Are you?

As we made our way through a way-too-short rehearsal process, the student performers continually amazed me at how receptive they were. I worried less and less about how “good” the show would be as a whole, and more about how to bring the best out of the actors as individuals. Sometimes it was as easy as saying, “You have this in you already…” And sometimes it was as tough as brushing off excuses for “Why I can’t…” These performers were sponges, soaking up the experience. (I discovered that sometimes the sponge is full and will resist more input, so you have to gently wring it out so it can absorb even more.) In turn, I learned how to teach in a genuine way.

My goal changed from “a great show” to “everyone at their best.” I pushed them further than they were used to, they let me, and we were rewarded with a show that was, indeed, great.

I became a teacher during my time in Turlock, and I can’t wait to do it again. There were five actors and one director during the rehearsal of the show, but there were six students…

Lesson Learned

I was contacted by a young drama teacher interested in having a play written for her advanced play production class. Unhappy with the availability of smart material for her class (she dismissively called Playscripts “Sillyscripts,” which should have been a red flag), she thought my work would be a good match for her students.

Fast-forward to months later, and it became apparent that the director A) wasn’t used to working in a workshop situation and B) wasn’t prepared for rehearsals. You have to be ready when you rehearse a large-cast show like the one she’d requested (forty speaking parts, several dozen extras), but I could tell she hadn’t even reviewed the script most days. I watched her struggle, offered input when I thought it was appropriate, and dealt with all those conflicting emotions playwrights have during a first production.

Things seemed to going okay (not great, but okay) until the third week. The teacher called me on Monday morning. “I’m not used to working this way, and I realized I’m not being true to myself during rehearsals. I need to run rehearsals as if the playwright isn’t sitting in the room. Normally when I do a show, if something isn’t working I cut it. I rearrange things. Writers hate me!” At first her tone sounded as if she was afraid of my reaction, but this last statement was spoken with a not a small amount of pride.

I love the collaborative workshop process. Perhaps I’m just a lazy writer, but I prefer going into production with a second draft and working out all the kinks during rehearsals. I’m not precious about my work, and learned a long time ago to listen to feedback, regardless of whether or not I take it. It’s amazing what you can glean from even the most ridiculous advice if you listen rather than prepare you defense while they talk. If you’re afraid taking a note is going to bring your script crashing down around you, then you probably haven’t built it on a firm foundation in the first place. So although a second red flag was raised when this teacher/director admitted “Writers hate me!”, I was ready to keep my mouth closed and mind open.

For the rest of the rehearsal process, I was invisible to her. I’d anticipated difficulties staging certain scenes, so included suggestions in the script, most of which were either ignored or, more likely, unread. If a line didn’t work after trying it only once, it was cut without asking for a rewrite or suggestion. I arrived one day to find three scenes had been cut and replaced with a musical montage featuring Hall and Oates’s “You Make My Dreams Come True.” She seemed frustrated in rehearsals, and at times a bit panicked. Despite this, there would be times she would start to run a scene then walk away, go into her office, start conversations in full voice with other students, and then move on to the next scene, never having paid attention to what was happening on stage. And not once did she turn to me for input or advice.

The worst day was near the end of the rehearsal process. The final scene of the play involves the characters facing their worst fear – the end of the world. They can’t stop it, so instead of panicking they allow themselves to become philosophical, shed their emotional armor and be vulnerable with each other.

Having struggled to wrap her mind around the end of the show, the director stood on a chair and announced to the cast, “I don’t understand why these people would do what the script says they do. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. They wouldn’t just stand there. They would panic, cry, scream, whatever. So I’m going to cut it and we’re going to rewrite it.” As I sat there silently, face red with embarrassment and anger, she proceeded to throw out the script, bark orders at the actors, dictate new lines and staging to the stage manager, and completely rewrite the last ten pages of my play. I thought to myself, “This is a playwright’s worst fear; I am irrelevant.”

I have a thick skin after years of writing, so well intentioned (and some not-so-well intentioned) criticism rarely bothers me. What bothered me in this situation was what that teacher did, or didn’t do, for her students.

During the rehearsal process for this play, I watched a teacher, a person in charge of helping young people formulate their opinions on so many aspects of their lives, teach sixty-plus enthusiastic, talented young actors that the playwright doesn’t matter. Rather than take advantage of the playwright being in the room, the teacher forged ahead, treating the script as a problem to be solved rather than a challenge to create something from the ground up. This was a huge missed opportunity for her students. They could have learned what it was like to collaborate, have an artistic discussion, workshop material. Who knows, maybe there were budding playwrights in that room. Instead they watched her treat me like a hindrance and, at times, a joke, and I’m afraid that is a lesson difficult to unlearn.

When the dust settled, I ended up with a play I’m incredibly proud of (with my original ending, thank you very much), and a great story to tell other playwrights. The teacher told me her students were thrilled to have their names in the published version of the script. Hopefully someday they’ll be taught they deserve even more.

Job Application

This is a real cover letter I attached to a writing sample for a comedy writing gig.

Human Resources
Motel 6 Corporation
Via Email

To Whom It May Concern…(To Who It May Concern? No, to Whom, I had it right the first time…),

My name is Sean Abley, and I am applying for the Weekend Overnight Desk Clerk position, recently listed on I can honestly say, after all of my experience in the job employment industry, my one unrealized dream is to check people in to Motel 6.

If you’ll allow me a personal anecdote: Several years ago (for legal reasons, I’m not allowed to be too specific) in or near Anaconda, MT (ditto), I had the fortune to check into a Motel 6 very late at night. Although my appearance that evening could generously be described as “disheveled,” (Side note: The blood on my face was my own, as was the pair of handcuffs attached to my wrist and a severed [presumably] human forearm [not mine].) the night clerk barely looked up from his computer screen as he checked me into my room. Where I’m from this is called “minding your own beeswax,” and this dedication to personal privacy is but one reason I’m driven to work for Motel 6. Well, that and the amazing rooms – Seriously, where do you get those sheets?

Lest you think I’m “kissing up” to the boss (fingers crossed!), when the police arrived early the next morning, they, too, were impressed with the fine quality of the room.

I’ve attached a resume, but highlights of my experience and education include:

  • Waste Management of the Quad Cities – Assets Manager. Duties included: Identifying and accruing assets; Asset transportation; Asset disposal; Light phones and filing.
  • White Castle International, Inc – Customer Satisfaction. Duties included: Looking at customers; Listening to customers; Apologizing to customers; Standing.
  • Loni Anderson High School (fka Loni Anderson Memorial High School until the school board was informed she had yet to die.) – Information Specialist. In my five years at LAHS, I gathered information equivalent to a high school diploma (1.5 GPA). Reason for leaving: I had big dreams!
  • I hope you see something in my experience that says, “Motel 6!”

    Sincerely (Or should I say Motel 6-cerely!),
    Sean Abley