Autumn Is Coming


Just got word from Mike Davis that my story "Cul Du-Sac Virus" is going to be included in his Autumn Cthulhu anthology. As an avowed lover of Autumn (there really is no better season) I'm both honored and excited to have one of my stories among the leaves.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Aug202019

A VERY Surprising Summer

As usual, when publications are concerned, when it rains it pours. After a bit of literary drought, I'm proud to announce that not one, not two, but THREE of my stories have come out in the last month. So, in no particular order:

 

The Fangs of Rustwood: It all started when I heard that Games Workshop was about to release an Age of Sigmar Battletome for the Gloomspite Gitz (goblins, in ye olde tongue). The folks at Black Library asked me to pitch some short story ideas for the Summer of Reading event, and you can bet they were ALL ABOUT GOBLINS. Fortunately, the editors weren't put off at all by my mad cackles, and were willing to work with me on a couple of grot tales.

Starting with my viewing of Arachnophobia at the tender age of eight, I've always had an unhealthy fear of spiders. So I was excited to pass a little bit of that sweaty-palmed terror onto you. "The Fangs of Rustwood" is part murder mystery, part survival horror, with a mess of giant arachnids thrown into the mix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lies that Bind: Anyone who knows me knows that I'm an enormous fan of the Banner Saga franchise. With art reminiscent of the old Rankin Bass and Ralph Bakshi flights of fancy, deep characterization, choices that affect gameplay, and an engrossing world based on Scandinavian myths and eddas. As you can imagine, I was keen to sneak into the figurative mead hall and try my hand at writing some tie-in fiction, and the fine folks at Stoic were incredibly receptive. The story expands on the history and origins of Rugga, one of Banner Saga II's prime villains (or heroes, if you're a fan of ambitious social climbers).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second to Last Stop: I wrote this little horror story back in 2010. My intent was to dissect the role of liminal space in the context of horror, really digging into that specific point in a movie/story/game where the protagonists stop existing in the "real" world and fall into shadow. I thought it would be fun to examine this idea through a lot of different tropes and subgenres to create a sort of meta-commentary on genre as a whole. Honestly, I was pretty damn proud of how it turned out.

Then Cabin in the Woods hit theatres and horror editors wouldn't touch my story with a ten-foot pole. Fortunately, the story seems to have legs…lots of them, in fact. The fine folks at The NoSleep Podcast have (as usual) outdone themselves, especially Graham Rowat, who not only give an amazing performance, but effortlessly tackles the narrator's dialectic gymnastics, switching from Appalachian drawl, to Spanish, to a New England twang without batting an eye.  

Monday
Jul012019

Can We Just All Agree the Stories in "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" Aren't Scary?

Okay, so now I've gotten your attention, before you write me an angry e-mail just hear me out. I grew up loving Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its two sequels. They were the fodder for many a campfire tales, and were formative in my understanding of what horror is, why it is, and what it is meant to do. One of the first things I did upon learning I was about to become a father was to head out an pick up a copy of the original trilogy.

Paging through the books, I quickly realized that the stories were not quite what I remembered. Granted, they were all there--spiders coming out of faces, pet rats, wendigos, and repetitious ghosts, all speckled with the occasional exhortation to grab your audience and shout the final line. I get it, the books are intended for a third-grade audience, it's ridiculous to expect them to terrify a thirty-something reader with decades of horror tales in his metaphorical belt. I'm not knocking the stories for what they are, only what they're up against. Which is, to say, their illustrations.

Stephen Gammel's terrifying art turns what would have otherwise been a relatively unremarkable entry in the kid-horror genre into a work of transcendent nightmare. Yes, yes, we all remember Scary Stories, but it's not the literary content that got the book banned from elementary school libraries.

When ranged against the absolute pants-shitting dread of Gammel's artistry, Alvin Schwartz' bare-bones arrangements of folklore and urban legends come a distant second. If you don't believe me, check out a copy of the new(ish) edition with Brett Helquist's illustrations. Granted, Helquist is a damn fine illustrator, but do you think the franchise would've made such a big, bloody splash if that had been the version stalking the shelves of so many book fairs throughout the 80's and 90's? It think it was Gammel's willingness to terrify that truly made the book both famous and infamous.  

I hear you muttering into your monitors: "So, if Scary Stories stories didn't scare you as a kid, what did?"

 

 

 I submit for the approval of the Midnight Society the anthology: Monsters You Never Heard of, by Raymond Van Over.

To be fair, my memories of this book are clouded by my abject fear of the first story: "The Burr Woman". The rest of the anthology could be utter trash, but I swear that story haunts me to this day, to the point I always watch my back when I am in the woods.

There are other stories that spooked me as a kid, the sort of tales that would show up in a Helen Hoke anthology like Creepies, Creepies, Creepies or Horrors, Horrors, Horrors, which somehow made it onto the shelves of elementary school libraries throughout the country despite being very much not for elementary school kids. This was before the internet came into its own, before you could log onto a Creepypasta site and skim stories until one of them scares the skin off you.

I'm not jumping up onto my old man soapbox, yelling about how: "Back in my day, kid horror was kid horror." It wasn't. It isn't. It never will be. The true horror, both then and now, is when you happen upon a spooky story that somehow slipped through the cracks, something that wasn't quite sanitized for kids but ended up in the children's section nonetheless. It doesn't need blood, or gore, or even violence, but it can still chill, still haunt a kid for a lifetime.

I know I've got my story. What's yours?

Friday
Mar292019

My Semi-Charmed Life: 2018 Finances

Ah, yes, I know it's been a while, but I've been pretty busy on the production end of things (lots of exciting news on that front to come). But, having just finished my taxes I figured it was time for another round of: "My Semi-Charmed Life!"

By way of explanation, there are a number of full-time authors who regularly post their writing income--John Scalzi (although not so much anymore), Jim Hines, and Kameron Hurley, for instance. That being said, these are working authors (i.e. people who write for a living). 

So, I figured it might be interesting for you all to get a glimpse at the semi-pro side of things, a view from the middle of the heap as it were. While I do try to write regularly, and it brings me great joy to do so; for me, writing is a side-hustle, at best. I have a full-time job, a family, hobbies, and a life outside of fiction. 

So, without further prevarication:

Could I have cut corners, yes--as always. I went and hosted a writer's retreat for a number of colleagues, but in my experience, those sorts of things always pay for themselves in ideas, networking, and well...good times.

Most of my fiction sales came from The Black Library (fine folks, all). The upshot is that they pay professional rates, but the timetable leaves less room for writing original fiction. Still, I wouldn't change things for the world. It's been a true delight to have the chance to write in an IP I grew up loving. 

I set out this year, as I usually do, with the goal of my hobby paying for itself. It did (and then some). So, once again, I count myself supremely lucky.

 

Wednesday
Nov142018

Don't Start Believing

Anyone who knows me (and many people who don't) know that I love the fall. Not just the beautiful reds and golds of changing leaves, the crispness in the air, Halloween and horror movies--but also what comes after. I might be the only person I know who gets up a little early, just so I can step outside and gaze up at the grim Midwestern sky. I'm not sure whether it is the muddy palette of browns and grays, or the rain turning to slush turning back to rain, but there's just something about the bleakness of late autumn that really resonates with me.

I should add that I'm not a maudlin person by nature. I'm not mulling over existential conundrums while I'm out stomping around in the half-frozen mud and kicking through piles of rotting leaves. I'm genuinely enjoying the hell out of myself.

So, when I learned that not one, not two, but three of my pieces were going to be published in early November, it was a rare and singular delight.

I've spoken often of the feast or famine nature of publishing, and how lucky I feel to have stories pop up on a semi-regular basis. And I still get that little frisson of disbelief when I see one of my pieces in print or hear it performed.

That's my story? I wrote it? Weird.

In any case, I'm burying the lead as always. No matter what you feel about late autumn, it's a good time (at least here in the Midwest) for curling up with a book (or podcast). If you're looking for some, I've got a few.

The Red Hours - My first novella. Well, my first published novella. It takes place in the Warhammer Fantasy universe (Age of Sigmar, to be specific). Sort of like a dark fantasy version of The Thing, it follows a group of outcasts in a distant outpost as they struggle with a strange and horrifying interloper as well as their own dark histories. I tried to write so the story would be accessible to people only marginally familiar with the Warhammer milieu. Give it a read and tell me whether you think I succeeded.

 

 "Destroyer of Worlds" - My attempt at historical horror, the story follows J. Robert Oppenheimer in the closing years of World War II, as he tries to end the conflict through supernatural means. Drew Sebesteny of the Tales to Terrify crew gives an amazing performance, especially as the voice of the genie. Oh, did I mention there's a genie? Because there's a genie.

 

"Every House, A Home" - In the world of fiction podcasts PodCastle could be considered something of an elder statesmen. So it was a singular delight when they agreed to publish my not-quite-haunted-house story. Performed by the exceptionally talented Tatiana Grey, the story deals with homes, real estate, history, and what it takes for a space to become a place.  

Tuesday
Oct162018

Wherein I (And John Goodman) Face My Fear of Spiders

I was in fourth grade, so probably around nine years old, when I watched Arachnophobia for the first and (until now) last time. I remember because I was sleeping over at David Miller's house and were being watched by his uncle Brian, a Vietnam War vet with a terrible fear of cucumbers. Apparently this uncle, while on jungle patrol, had fallen into a nest of snakes and been bitten pretty badly. The snakes, Uncle Brian told us, smelled just like cucumbers, so even the merest whiff was enough to set him into a nervous, stammering sweat. I saw it happen once at the park when we walked by a concession stand. I don't remember making fun of him (even in private), but apparently David's crazy uncle never liked me, or maybe he just got it into his head that kids couldn't be kids without a healthy fear of something, so he rented Arachnophobia to scare the shit out of us.

It worked.

Prior to this movie I remember cultivating, if not fear, than a healthy respect for spiders. Afterwards, I spent months poking at piles of clothes, or bedding, or books, expecting some eight-legged nightmare to come skittering out. It got to the point where I carried a little stick around--which ended up getting me in quite a bit of trouble, but that's not really part of this story. Between then and now I've gotten a better handle on my relationship with spiders to the point where I'm capable of carefully collecting the monstrously huge wolf spiders in my basement and transporting them safely outside.

But Arachnophobia, well…THAT is my Everest. 

Go on, I dare you to look at this and not feel at least a LITTLE squeamish. And yes, they're ABOVE your head.

The movie is nothing special, a horror-comedy (thanks to John Goodman) with a few jump scares and plenty of spider wrangling, and yet I still can't watch the initial scene--a long helicopter shot of a South American Rainforest--without clenching my teeth.

So, in the spirit of the season, and fortified with the thought that, based on my size and age, I am, most likely, an adult, I resolved to face the (frankly ridiculous) movie that be-webbed my childhood.

 

And here we go…

 

So, after the aforementioned establishing shot and a list of credits that are, in a word: confounding (Stephen Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Jeff Daniels, Julian Sands, John Goodman, and Harley Jane Kozak (now the successful author of a half-dozen crime and paranormal romance novels), we are treated to some expository dialogue wherein Dr. Atherton, an entomologist played by Julian Sands (who I best remember as the eponymous "Warlock" from the film Warlock), explains he is traveling to some bizarre sinkhole in the middle of the rainforest to try and discover new species of arachnids.

Also, there is a disposable photographer who tags along to serve as a sounding board for explanations as well as a vehicle for introducing our main antagonist--King Spider. So, it's never really clear if King Spider is intelligent or not. Throughout the film, numerous characters refer to it as: "a general, sending his soldiers out to conquer territory," which, together with the care it shows in sneaking its way back to the States in the coffin of a dead idiot makes a pretty compelling case for something beyond animal cunning. Once it gets to the Pacific Northwest though, King Spider acts like pretty much any other run-of-the-mill arachnid with an instantly lethal bite--so dumb.

Dr. Atherton makes a big deal about the occupants of the sinkhole being undisturbed for millions of years, a veritable time-capsule or some such nonsense. But, instead of weird insects and incredibly specialized birds, they find the deadliest spider in the world. Leaving aside that's not really how evolution works, King Spider doesn't really ever seem to eat anything it kills, at least anything big. I mean, it waits, presumably days, next to the decomposing body of its first victim without even a nibble. The sinkhole doesn't really show any indication of large prey either. So basically, the most venemous arachnid on Earth developed in an ecological vacuum.

Yes, these could easily kill us all. Take precautions? No, I don't really think that's necessary.

So, okay, Jeff Daniels shows up as the new doctor to a small town in the Pacific Northwest. He's got a wife who just gave up a high-paying exec job, and two kids who are basically cardboard cutouts--honestly, I don't think they say more than two lines without Daniels or Kozak present.

King Spider mates with a regular house spider (somehow), has a billion super-deadly kids (somehow), who proceed to start killing people (somehow), and Daniels (somehow) gets blamed. The thing about it is, there are REAL GODDAM SPIDERS crawling every which way, dropping out of trees, jumping out of cereal boxes, skulking along the corners of rooms, and straight-up murdering people.

Welcome to my nightmares.

I fell on it as I died.

As a hardened horror fan, I can sit through jump scares without batting an eye (just look for the cues) or (although I find it distasteful) watch a pleading victim dismembered by an oversized guy in a mask, but honestly, those freakin' spiders had me hiding my face behind a pillow like I was nine again. I couldn't even begin to fathom why the protagonists, when faced with a spider that can kill in seconds, decide to go searching for it BARE-HANDED instead of running the hell away or demanding a hazmat suit like any reasonable person. They don't tell the town, they don't try to evacuate people even after they learn only the King Spider can reproduce. They just continue to double-down on the unprotected spider search.

Enter John Goodman. 

I'm here to do two things: chew gum and kill spiders--and I'm all out of...oh, wait, no I'm not.

Meant as comic relief, Goodman's character is strangely against-tone for a movie full of characters and scenes that take themselves reasonably seriously. He's an exterminator and a rambling buffoon played in typical tongue-in-cheek Goodman fashion. More than that, he's a hero.

On one hand, we've got Jeff Daniels, a highly-educated, self-righteous asshole with a childhood fear or spiders--yes, yes, I get the irony. In the climax, he faces his fear, smashes his wine collection, and kills King Spider, but before that he spends most of the movie alternately flailing around in khakis and a ridiculous white sweatshirt, running from spiders, whining about how things never go his way, or pressed up against the wall in a cold sweat.

Goodman, on the other hand, faces a billion of the most deadly arachnids the world has ever seen and kills them all. He never breaks stride, gamboling from corpse to corpse while delivering one-liners with all the deadpan affect of a practiced sociopath. The man is clearly insane, but sometimes a little crazy is just what you need when you're up against the Spider Reich.

Daniels' character earns nothing. He may have killed King Spider and "saved" his carboard family, but I find it hard to believe that being almost murdered by something a dozen times would make anyone LESS afraid of it. More than that, he and his family end the movie by moving back to San Diego and reclaiming their old apartment, their old jobs, and their old lives...which, might I add, is exactly where they started. 

But this isn't about them, it's about me.

We have learned LITERALLY nothing.

I came into Arachnophobia as Jeff Daniels--a whiney, self-pitying coward with an exaggerated childhood fear; I like to think I left as John Goodman--a burgeoning sociopath with a slew of one-liners. Am I still afraid of spiders? No. Am I still afraid of Arachnophobia? Also, no. Although I will admit, just yesterday, I screamed like a nine-year-old when one of those enormous wolf spiders my basement so expertly cultivates went skittering between my feet as I emptied the clothes dryer.

And so, I will leave you as Arachnophobia leaves you: with an original Jimmy Buffet Song composed for the movie--because nothing says HORDES OF MURDEROUS SPIDERS like the man behind "Cheeseburger in Paradise."

I never knew "wasting away in Margaritaville" was a reference to slow-acting spider venom.