Demon Hunting and Tenth Dimensional Physics: 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017 Awards Season: Here's What's Eligible

Ah, yet again we see the end of the year. It means snowfall and leaves goldening on the branch and hot chocolate in hideously tacky, kitschy penguin-shaped mugs.

And for authors, it means that it's time to start thinking about the awards season. Now, this year I was...light, shall we say, on publications. Life got in the way, other projects got in the way. But I did still manage to pump out a handful of things that would be eligible, and I think they're things that are worth talking about.

I mean...okay, I may be a little biased, but that's beside the point.

The History Book: It should come as zero shock to anyone that I was...displeased with the political outcomes...okay, no, that paints it as me not liking it. I was scared shitless, my best friend was calling me in tears, and I drained a quarter bottle of vodka while watching the map. But it turns out I was hardly the only author feeling that way. Enough of us banded together that something grew out of the effort. Something special. Alternative Truths wasn't anything any of us did for the money. This was an anthology that one person funded out of pocket. This was something we did because we had to do something...and we're writers. So we wrote.

And I wrote The History Book. It's not a far-flung fictional idea that out of date or misleading curriculum is used. This sprung from there. What happens when we are institutionally doomed to repeat our past mistakes, because we aren't allowed to remember them? That was the question I wanted to explore.

(And guys, even if none of you fall head over heels for my story in here, buy the anthology. For every cent one of us authors gets for the royalties, the ACLU gets a cent, too. They're treated as an equal contributor, because they're the ones that protect our right to even put out this book.)

Laya: This piece was tossing around in the wind for a couple years before it finally landed in the loving embrace of Flame Tree Publishing. A nod to Robert E. Howard, it combines the classic troubled, questing hero of sword and sorcery with more than a heavy dose of Eldritch horror. It's a story of paternal love, of bittersweet musings, and of the weight of sins from the past - yours or your ancestors.

High Risk: I run a group for professional short story authors. A small-time affair. Well, as sometimes happens, author turned to editor and she needed a story: stat. Specifically, a unicorn in the desert story. Well, I love desert settings. I love unicorns. I love getting money. So I put something together for it and, luckily, I was the one who filled that last spot in her project. High Risk touches on one of my favorite underexplored themes in fantasy: what happens when magic meets capitalism? Because if we're honest with ourselves, we all know that somebody would make a killing selling over-the-counter glamours and jackets woven through with strands of unicorn mane. And if they're selling it, then someone has to be collecting it.

Protector of the Village Near Death: One of my only forays into the realm of audio, this is something of a departure for me. I don't write funny. I don't write cheerful. I write...well, you know what I write. It's dark. It's depressing. It's bittersweet. It's bleak. Bleak seems a good, solid word. But this one...okay, it came from a mixture of many different things. It starts with "Why are there no grandmas in fantasy novels? Old women know better and have much more time on their hands than plucky young adventurers." That meets up with an episode of Morning Drawfee where they create a "kindly old auntie" who slays demons. And that all meets up with "Why are these villages still standing if they all have to wait around for said plucky young adventurer to save them? They should have been burned to the ground by now. Someone must be watching out for them."

I read it and listened to it and...I'm not going to tell you it's funny. But I will say that it made me laugh. For whatever that's worth.

And that's what I've got today. I'm happy to provide text copies of anything I'm able to (Contracts and all, they can sometimes get tricky.).

Happy demon hunting!

Monday, September 18, 2017

An Informative Ramble

Oh, lord, I have been away for a while, haven't I? I didn't intend to do that, and I apologize for the extended absence. I've been trying to juggle about a dozen different projects, including novel edits, agent queries, short stories, and some presentations that I need to give online and in person.

And, of course, I've been doing things that aren't work related here and there. My work/life balance is… well, it does exist, it's just not super great. But lately, I've been listening to (This should shock very few of you) Night Mind. Specifically, How to Make a Webseries.

Now, do I think I'm going to run out and make a fancy horror webseries tomorrow and top writing books? Of course not. I don't have the equipment or video-editing skills, for points 1-5. Nobody wants to see a webseries shot on my tablet. At least I assume they don't.

But, aside from my slavish devotion to watching every Night Mind video, I'm finding it fascinating. It's about how to craft compelling (And maketable) fiction, from a guy who makes his living from tearing fiction apart and looking at the base elements. The fact that his voice is sexy as fuck… well, that's just a bonus.

I do have some potentially significant news: in order to pursue a project that's eating at my brain, and due to a lot of other aspects of the situation that I just can't quite control, Evenstad Media will be going on a bit of a hiatus. As I said, I have many other projects in the works, and as much as I love that series, there are some other things that need attending to. That's not to say that it's gone forever… just for now. As a writer, when an idea just stabs you in the stomach and twists… it's time to follow that idea for a little bit. Or a lotta bit, as the case may be. So I'm following this idea wherever it decides it might want to go.

I hope you all understand. At some point, I'm going to get back to Evenstad Media, but it's a complicated situation and I really feel this is the best option at this point.

Sorry for the unpleasant business portion of that, but I feel like it had to be said. I will still be plugging away at these other projects though, trying to get some books out for you, more short stories. It's all in the works, but things are taking more time than I would like.

So… that was a bit of a ramble, but I hope it was at least something you felt was worth reading to the end.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DON'Ts (Part 2)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

Well, I hope you’ve read the first five don'ts in the last post, as well as the top ten dos. If not, they are HERE, HERE, and HERE, in publication order. Once you've caught up, swing on back here and we'll go through the top five things not to take from internet horror. Or my top five, anyway.

5: DON'T Underestimate Your Audience
Yep, I made this point in the do section, but I want to harp on it more. I want to harp on it over and over and over again, because damn it, it's important.

Your readers are not stupid. Your audience, if you're creating, say, film, are not stupid. Please remember that. You have room to be subtle. Seriously, I cover this in more detail in the dos, I just wanted to really drive it home. So much internet horror is done by amateurs, and those amateurs can be talented… but by and large, they overexplain. They give the reader too much handholding, and inadvertently damage their own work.

4: DON'T Hide Everything, Otherwise You Have Nothing
Okay, this may be counter to what I just said, but… well, it's a balancing act. Even the smartest reader needs something to work with. If you hide everything… what's the point of your story? Writers see advice (Like the advice I gave.) saying to be subtle and not play your cards too soon. So, rather than overexplaining, writers underexplain. You see no sign of anything weird. The character is therefore scared of… the next plot point?

It's fine to have a mysterious entity in horror. H.P. Lovecraft was a master of it, rarely ever describing the otherworldly horrors he created. But even Lovecraft mentioned a creeping tentacle or a flash of color. So many internet horror writers have this tendency to write their story without anything to actually horrify. And, perhaps in the worst horror of all, it's starting to creep into traditionally published writing. Professional authors… I just can't, with that. Give the audience enough without giving them too much.

3: DON'T Forget the Polish
Now, I did say that passion would make people appreciate your work. But if you don't pay attention to the polish of your chosen craft, you're not going to rise to any height. If you're a writer, you need to know your grammar. You need to know how language flows. Film makers need to know about their angles, the use of focus, their editing techniques. That kind of thing is what moves an okay, likable work into something worth paying attention to.

Polish is something I would really like more of in the world of internet horror. You see it in some work. Don't Hug Me I'm Scared is very polished and put together. TheRussian Sleep Experiment is wonderful. But by and large, even some of the best work out there (Marble Hornets, Candle Cove, Tribe Twelve) lack a shine and shimmer that a little more attention would have brought them. They're wonderful, but I can't say that they're great technical creations.

2: DON'T Forget Your Twist
There are no original ideas left. Sorry, it's true. Everything has been done. There are only three stories, in the end. Or thirty six. Or nine. Whatever you want to pick, there are only a set number of actual plots. Your idea has likely been done before, too.

I know that I'm focusing a lot on creativity, but that's because it's a massive success of internet horror, when it works. It's also a massive failing because, even though I think the idea of gatekeepers in publishing is patently ridiculous, there is something to be said for mitigating clichés. It doesn't mean it's going to be good, but it won't be something seen a million times unless something actually happens to it that's different.

Your audience will love you if you do that. So will editors and critics. There's very little people enjoy more than seeing something expected actually turned around. It can be hard to come up with the idea, but when you do, it can be some of the most powerful fiction created.

1: DON'T. Pull. Your. Punches.
Ignore everything else in these four posts if you have to. Seriously. This is easily the most important thing I have to say in this whole thing: don't pull your punches. Whatever the reason you may have for it, conscious or not, pulling your punches will only harm the end work. You have to fully commit to the work, and this is where internet horror falls flat and falls hard. Okay, that's contradictory to a previous point saying that they do well in this, but again: those are the outlying standouts, not the massive bulk of the genre.

You can tell when someone put the forethought and love into a piece to make it really special. But you can also tell when someone doesn't, and they just want to get popular without trying. The first step to actually throwing solid punches is training it up. This is where learning comes in. The polish. The passion. All of it.

Your punches will be weak if you don’t work up your skill. But even if they're strong, you can kill yourself on it. If you’re worried about not pissing anyone off… you're dead. You're throwing shallower punches. You have no follow through. I was taught years ago that, if you're going to punch someone in the nose, you don't aim for their nose. You aim for the back of their head, and their entire head just happens to be in the way.

Pulling punches is a way to absolutely destroy any emotional impact you might have had. You can't keep people 100% happy and deliver a powerful story. If you don’t want to risk ever upsetting anyone ever, your work will be placid and gray.

"If everyone likes your work, but nobody loves it, it will fail." That's from Mark Rosewater, and it's an absolute truth when it comes to internet horror. 99.9% of work produced in the "genre" fails. No one really watches the videos or plays the games or reads the stories, and those who do… they don’t care enough to fight for the work in question. And the only way to make someone love something is to risk other people hating it. It's that simple. So for the love of god: Don't. Pull. Your. Punches.

And that is my final word on the matter. I hope this has been helpful to you. It was helpful for me to write it. Really sets some things clear in my head.

Until next time, lovelies,


Friday, June 30, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DON'Ts (Part 1)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

So, the last couple posts, I went over the do's from internet horror as its own weird little genre. What we can learn about writing horror, and just about writing in general, from the online scarefest that's been blooming over the past decade or so.

But as many of you probably already know, internet horror is far from perfect. For every Candle Cove and Marble Hornets, there's a dozen "WHO WAS PHONE" and "Jane the Killer" stories to muddy the waters (Although WHO WAS PHONE is at least funny.). There's a lot to learn from all that bad horror about what we should absolutely avoid doing, too. And I've got ten of those nuggets plucked from the pile here.

You can read the do's, as well as my definition of internet horror, HERE in the first pair of articles. This set will be largely self contained, but there will likely still be references back to the first two, so I do recommend reading these all in order.

Now, enough of all the lead-in crap – let's get right to what we all want out of this: numbers in descending order!

10: DON'T Abuse Internal References
This is low on the list, since it's not always applicable, but I feel like it has to be said nonetheless. The world of internet horror is largely composed of Creative Commons elements reconfigured into something unique. Whether that's good or not is not the point here. What matters is that it makes for a very self-referential genre.

If you're going to do something like that, you have to do it well. Slenderman, the Rake, Jeff the Killer, and the Brutal Obscene Beast all get cursed by Smile Dog and Normal Porn for Normal People… that's not a good story. That's a mess, and it happens way too often. Well-done internal reference can be seen in works like EverymanHYBRID (Slenderman/the Rake), but the key is that it's brought in well. It makes sense. It works within the world and, perhaps most importantly, the elements that are borrowed and included are not all that exists. They're not even the main antagonistic forces. That honor falls to Habit in that universe, and Habit is an entirely original character created by the guys.

Outside of actual internet horror, I'd say this has the most application in Lovecraftian fiction. Sure, Nyarlathotep, Hastur, and the Hounds of Tindalos might all be hunting the same guy together… but I doubt it, and I doubt even more an author could make it work without some very original worldbuilding to tie the disparate elements together. And really, the same could be said when using any mythological elements. Use them carefully, know them well, and bring something original in, but don't overuse any of it.

9: DON'T Assume Your First Idea is Clever and Amazing

It's not. I would put money on the first idea you have for something being trite, cliché, and generally predictable, in fact. It's not a mockery or me being rude or mean. You could say the same thing about my first idea for something, too. Our brain stores up ideas it's seen already. If we see a solution work once, our brain is designed to remember it, because from a survival standpoint, it makes sense to just do it the way you know for sure works.

That, however, is the absolute death of creativity. But the internet horror community seems largely ignorant of this fact. Almost every story in the internet horror community involves Uncanny Valley Creature #12 stalking Mary Sue/Marty Stu through a setting that is barely touched upon, causing insanity/sickness as well as electronic interference. Also this is the last journal entry Mary Sue/Marty Stu made. It's done over and over because there are several well-created, popular internet horror pieces that follow this formula. The plot is stored in your brain already, and it leaps out when presented with an opportunity.

I guarantee that, when you see a call or a specific theme, you come up with a half dozen ideas that you've seen somewhere else before you get to something worth dealing with. You may drop everything rapidly, but it comes up nonetheless. That doesn't mean you should write it. Well, not normally…

8: DON'T Just Reuse Someone's Idea (Caveat Incoming)
To go along with the last point, you can't just find a successful idea and do it over with a different veneer. You have to change something to make it work out as something worth doing. I mentioned that in the do's, but it's important. It's so important, and especially in internet horror, it's way too prevalent.

This phenomenon is really easily seen with Slenderman. So many Slenderman based creations floating out there, to the point where it has passed out of the internet and into the mainstream. And unfortunately, the mainstream does Slenderman… poorly, as a rule. Take a look at the Marble Hornets movie to see that in full glory… or, actually, don't. It's so bad. It's so bad, guys. Not only did they not understand what made Marble Hornets work, the changes they made… just didn't work. They weren't original. Instead, it actually took something that had some interesting elements, something original, and shaved off all the edges to fit it into the same box we've seen a hundred times in every forgettable horror movie.

Don't be Always Watching. Please, please, please.

7: DON'T Rely on Blood and Gore
I praised internet horror for subtlety… but again, that's the really good stuff, the stuff worth learning from. For the most part, the common horror tactic of "let's drop blood everywhere" is so overused. I'm a fan of splatterpunk, personally, but there's a way to eviscerate hundreds of people and make it actually work. Read Peel and Eat Buffet by Vincent W. Sakowski to see it well-used. Assuming you have a strong enough stomach.

This isn't a large, complicated point: use your blood and intestines sparingly. They're expensive, and they're best left implied, in my opinion.

6: DON'T Rely on Aesthetics
Internet horror is full of aesthetic terror. Pictures and videos, yes, but in a genre that has an unfortunate tendency to leave out grounding details, the horrific entities are often described in excessive detail, often to the point of just throwing up a photograph.

That is not enough, no matter what anyone thinks. Even the most unnerving pictures won't save a story. Jeff the Killer is popular, but widely acknowledged as just straight up bad. The plot is weak, the writing is awful, the characters are ridiculous. The image associated with Jeff the Killer is terrifying, but if you don't stop there, if you look at anything beyond the aesthetics, it falls apart. You have to bring more than some scary imagery to your story, whatever the medium. Otherwise, you end up with a mess. You end up with, at best, a work that will only ever be known for one, fleeting element of it.

And those are your first five don'ts. Tomorrow, we'll have the top five, and the end of a very fun series for me to work on. I like these bigger collections of blog posts… so you could safely expect more, most likely.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DOs (Part 2)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

Welcome back to hell. Or… my blog. Whatever. Yesterday, I did entries 10-6 on this series, and you can read that by clicking on the big happy face.

Remember the happy face. You might need it as we go through the last five. I will… of course, I don't handle this kind of horror particularly well either. But it's there if you do need it.

5: DO Focus on Your Concept
I teach a short story class with another author, and one of the things we both try to drive home is the importance of your idea. Especially in speculative fiction (Including horror), the idea needs to be solid. You need to know what your idea is, and you need to know it well.

Again, internet horror comes in to drive home a point that I would make anyway. It is a singular concept that sells most written internet horror. Jeff the Killer, for its many flaws, hinges on a well-traveled concept: the consequences of your actions may be larger than they appear. Smile Dog: misery loves company. Candle Cove: perception may lie. One concept, and everything builds around it.

4: DO Have Passion
No one has perfect execution on every part of a creative project. It's fucking impossible, in fact. Even if someone actually produced exactly what they had in mind, someone else could hate it. Look at Van Gogh's Starry Night. It's a master piece… but some people think his paint was laid on too thick. Because of that, they not only dislike Starry Night, but everything Van Gogh painted.

You know what people respect, though? Whether or not they like something, they want to see you go balls deep into it. Even if they don’t like what you've produced, they can then see that you, as a creator, were passionate about it. And if they do like it, then that will help them love it.

I'm not going to run through specific examples of this one. Internet horror is full of missteps, things that could have been done better or had more time given to them. But you know what? The genre is still successful, and the people doing it are still passionate. And that is a testament to the creators, in my opinion.

3: DO Shirk off the Genre Shackles
… or at least wiggle around in them a little bit. Horror is a breeding ground for monsters and aliens and magic. I love all those things. I love them done and I love them redone. But I also love it when some creator throws caution to the wind and goes outside of their purview. Or, at the very least, takes the access road running next to what's "normal."

The best example I have of this is a fairly popular series on Youtube called alantutorial. It's not supernatural. It's not particularly scary, in the traditional sense. But it is one of the most unnerving experiences I've had with fictional media to date. To sum it up, alantutorial is the web series of a man with unspecified developmental issues. He makes tutorials on ridiculous things no one would need a tutorial for (Such as crushing a can with wood.), or just makes incorrect tutorials. But he loves it. It's his passion, and damn it, he's going to do them.

As the series progresses, he seems to love the tutorials less and less. He has some traumatic experiences. He becomes destructive, and eventually, his caretaker (We assume his brother from context clues) locks him out of the house and bars his windows shut. This is a man who really can't take care of himself. And the ensuing abuse that follows Alan is not any easier to play witness to.

The series isn't scary because there's a monster after you, ooga-booga. It's scary because there's a… depravity to the kind of person who would do that. It's scary because we know this isn't all that fictional – this sort of thing happens all the time when someone with one of any number of mental disorders, learning disabilities, et cetera becomes "too much" for their caretaker. It's especially scary if you know someone who is reliant on another person for so much of their wellbeing.

Alantutorial is entirely fictional, thankfully (As a side note, Alan Resnick, who was behind it, is brilliant. Check him out.), but it feels a little bit too real. Even when it's clearly going over the top, you can't help but feel dread for Alan in that situation.

Now, it's not the only piece that does that. A lot of horror feels maybe just a bit too real in certain places. Sections of a lot of these indie horror shows online have a lot of realism to them. I can't make too many recommendations because the more realistic they get, the harder it is for me to watch them. As the whippersnappers say: it's too spoopy for me.

2: DO Embrace the Unknown
Not knowing is the basis of all fear. What's in the dark that I can't see? What are the motives of this thing? Why is this guy avoiding the moonlight? What's going on in my dreams?

But often, those questions are answered. That's totally valid, don't get me wrong. But I tend to lean with H.P. Lovecraft on this one: the not knowing is worse than the knowing. Or, as I've heard it many times: the audience's imagination will come up with something ten times worse than you ever would have created. Something unknown and not seen can't be ruined by substandard description or bad effects or a lack of budget or any other problems. In the mind of the reader, that terrifying fill-in-the-blank can be the scariest thing in the world.

Again, it's not the only way, but it is a way, and it's one that the internet horror crowd has taken to heart. I'm going to point you back at the SCP Foundation. Redaction, Expungement, and Black Boxes are key components in many of their pieces. SCP-087 does something awful if you send more than one person. SCP-447 does something with dead bodies that's too horrible to detail out. And then you have SCP-231, which is one of the most heavily redacted entries in the project. And Procedure 110 Montauk to control SCP-231, which is so horrid you need special clearance to learn about it. That is the power of the unknown. A few clues, some information skirted around… and the audience's imagination, now their own worst enemy.

1: DO Twist the Unoriginal
Internet horror, as I kind of hope I've shown, is… vast. There's a lot of it, and a lot of it interconnects somehow or another. But more than that, a lot of it comes from seeing it, hearing it, reading it. When Marble Hornets hit the scene, suddenly another half-dozen indie horror shows in a similar vein started… and flopped.

Because we've all seen Marble Hornets, too. You can't just remake it with your characters. You have to do something that's actually original with the idea.

I love riffing on ideas. I love squishing two or three disparate things together. It's actually one of my favorite ways to create new fiction. But when I do it, my first question to myself is: what's the angle? Where and how am I approaching this to bring something fresh to it? That's unfortunately harder to find in the wild. What comes immediately to mind is the channel StanFrederick. After you've watched some of the other similar shows online, find that one and you'll see what I mean.

But by now, I've started you down the rabbit hole, or you've already been there. So what did I miss that twists the norms around? Let me know so I can tap into the new veins of horror even deeper. And stay tuned for the top 10 DON'TS we can learn from internet horror, too.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DOs (Part 1)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

So, this is going to be different. And long. On a random fluke, I wrote up a two day blog post a while back. I didn't expect that, but I went with it. This time I'm expecting it. I'm expecting twice as long, actually. This is probably going to spread across 4 blog posts, so I hope you're in for the long haul.

So, Top Ten Do's to Take from Internet Horror. Two posts. Top Ten Don'ts to Take from Internet Horror. Two posts. But what the hell am I talking about when I say internet horror? What makes it special or unique? I'm a reader/horror fan/random passerby, why do I care about any of this? I'm not a writer!

What I'm talking about/What makes it special: Horror is an old, old genre, and it's gone through countless permutations. Gothic horror, with vampires and werewolves. The existential dread of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries. 80's slasher flicks. The 90's brought splatterpunk. And in modern times, there's what I consider a new genre of internet horror. It's… hard to define. It encompasses creepypasta and the ARG phenomenon. We'll learn more detail about it as the list goes on.

Why you should care: admittedly, I'm putting these articles together with an eye to helping writers… myself included. But, at the very least, you may find some new things to read/watch/listen to. At the most, you could find it interesting to peek behind the curtain and see Professor Marvel pulling at the levers.

Okay, this intro is already getting too long for my tastes – let's get going.

10: DO Experiment
Now, this isn't exactly unique advice to be gleaned from internet horror, but I feel what people are doing with their online spooks drives it home very well. Traditional horror is just that: traditional. It follows a narrative structure, and it's told the normal way a story is. And that's great.

But internet horror doesn't need that to function. In fact, the lack of traditional narrative structure can be used to make it better, if handled correctly. One of my personal favorites is Candle Cove. It's just a basic, epistolary short story, told via forum posts, but it wouldn't be the same if told simply from beginning to end. Or, perhaps a bit more famously, you have the SCP Foundation. It's easily got to be the largest collaboratively written spec fic online… maybe ever. The community behind it creates everything. While there are narrative pieces involved, you don't need it. It's not the core of the work. Instead, everything comes from "internal files" written as a record of contained phenomena, detailing effects, encounters, and security measures. And believe you me, that shit is scary. Which, speaking of that…

9: DO Scare the Audience

I honestly can't believe I have to put this in when talking about horror, but here we are. I recently read one of the recent editions of Year's Best Horror. I put it off, because I read at night… and fuck that noise. But when I eventually started in on it… there was not a lot of terror there. The first story was, at best, funny. At worst, it was dumb and disjointed. But it was not God damn scary, and even if I was a little cautious about reading it, I wanted scary from my horror. Go figure.

Scary is not hard. If you try, you can sit there for a few minutes and come up with a list of shit that's scary. Big things, small things. It doesn't matter, something should be there that actually qualifies your work as horror. Even if it's just creepy.

Internet horror turned a husky into one of the most prevalent horror creations in decades: Smile Dog. Huskies are fucking cute, and if they can be scary? You can do something with it, trust me (Sorry, that was angrier than I intended it to be.).

8: DO Devote Yourself
Any modern indie creator will tell you that it's not easy. We're all struggling in one way or another. You can't start in as a creator of any sort if you're not ready to accept that, and lots of people quit when it doesn't work out how they want.

But let me tell you a story. It's a very short story about determination. In fact, it's seven words that speak to my point: EverymanHYBRID has been going for five years. Here's another one: Marble Hornets lasted for five years. Or how about this one: the SCP Foundation began in 2008.

Internet horror thrives on a devoted base of creators. These are people who do it for the love of what they're making, and that love drives them through the process of creation, come hell or high water.

7: DO Respect Your Audience's Intelligence
While it can be tempting to spell everything out, people are smarter than a lot of content creators seem to give them credit for. They can pick up on context clues. They can piece things together, and that’s especially important and useful when you're working with horror.

Now, this can be in a narrative sense. Take Candle Cove again. The ending could have been spelled out very clearly, thus robbing it of any value and ruining one of the best new horror stories in quite a long time (Okay, my opinion. But still. It's damn good). Instead, the author leaves it with the revelation that, as a child, he would watch static for half an hour when he said he was watching Candle Cove. That's creepy as shit, guys.

But there are broader strokes to it, too, and sometimes cleverer. SCP-231 has hidden text that can only be revealed if you mess with the scripts on the page. Marble Hornets and other similar projects hid actual ciphers and codes to be resolved in their work. Hell, NOC +10 may as well just be called "See if you can crack this code." Or heck, try pulling up all the information about "This HouseHas People in It." And good luck.

The modern horror audience doesn’t want to be spoonfed every scare. They want to have the realization that they should be terrified, and it's the creators job to just stay out of the way.

6: DO Embrace Subtlety
To go along with the intelligent audience, it's worth it to use subtlety to your advantage. I'm going to chime in with Marble Hornets stuff again because it's very popular and, of the three big-time Slenderverse Series, it's the one that I think is creepiest. And a lot of that is down to subtlety.

At first, you don’t see the monster. Not really. Anything you get from him is fleeting. A quick turn of the head, him standing in the background, the camera just quickly panning past him. That changes as the series goes, sure, but it's subtle to begin with. The Operator in Marble Hornets is… there. And that's the real terror. It could be there at any point. It probably is. It's probably around the corner. It makes every single episode tense, because you're watching and waiting for the Operator to show up, just like the characters.

In fact, the very original Slenderman "story" is all on its own very subtle. It was literally just two photos with the Slenderman in the background, and some implications of missing or dead children. That was it. And that was all it needed to be.

And with that, I'm going to put this aside for the day. I'll be back tomorrow with entries 5-10, and I hope you'll be back, too.

And… umm… here's some kittens to make you feel better, in case you actually went to any of those links. I did warn you.


Monday, June 12, 2017

My Personal Favorite Internet Horror Gurus

I said in the last post that I was just completely immersing myself in horror and weird fiction. A major part of that has been online, and a big part of that has been through the Youtube horror/dark fiction community. It's a relatively small (I mean, small compared to, like, the video gaming community.) group, but there's enough there to keep me occupied. And... well, I don't know, maybe some of you would be interested in my opinion on them. I'm going to give it anyway, but if you're here, I think it's safe to assume you might be interested in what I have to say. Or on the subject. Or something. I don't know, and fuck this transition. Here's my list of channels that, for me, are good jumping off points into the Youtube horror scene.

Night Mind:
I'm starting off strong. Night Mind wasn't my first introduction to the scene (I think I started with Marble Hornets, which inevitably led me to Night Mind.), but I feel like he's the quintessential hub for the community. His channel began as analysis with the big three Slenderman series (Marble Hornets, EverymanHYBRID, and Tribe Twelve). From there, Nick Nocturne (Our theoretically supernatural host.) devoted himself to not only analyzing more popular series (Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, alantutorial, The Mirror, Lasagna Cat) and videos (Unedited Footage of a Bear, This House Has People In It), as well as occasional forays into other media (The SCP Foundation, Urban Legends). Bur according to him, his main goal nowadays is to introduce new webseries to the public. He's where I found out about Eckva, HOOH, Ben's Playhouse, and a ton of others. And with almost 160,000 subscribers, he's pretty good at getting that word out there. Combined with a very alluring, dark voice and just generally high quality productions (From the beginning. Very little is known about the actual man behind the four-eyed cat, but I have to assume he has some background in editing/narration/AV Tech/etc.), Night Mind is the big daddy of Youtube horror, and if you only grab one of these channels into your collection, I would personally recommend it be Night Mind.

Midnight Marinara:
Now, this is less for the actual Midnight Marinara series on the channel, and far more of a recommendation for Undercooked Analysis, a long-running creepypasta podcast. It combines readings of various creepypasta with analysis from people experienced in the genre and a healthy dose of humor (The worse the story, the more humor included.). This one doesn't hub out into video so much, but it is the best channel I've found thus far to lead you into that world of creepypasta that is so important to the internet horror world.

Now, SlimeBeast is not one I love at the same level as Night Mind and Midnight Marinara. A lot of what he does, I just can't totally jive with. So he's not exactly one of my favorites, but I think he is very important and very influential. He's a very successful, well-known creepypasta writer, and does mostly readings on his own channel. Not my cup of tea. But he does go into a lot of the more overarching content, and having a creator do that lends a unique perspective on that type of content. He sometimes goes too far for my tastes, and comes off a little bitter and angry. But some people will love his particular style, and he is still very worthwhile to check out.

Nyx Fears:
Now, this one's going to be short. Nyx isn't exactly an internet horror guru. Instead, he's a horror guru working on the internet. He covers a lot of modern major releases like Get Out and The Babadook. But he also, if you're looking at it as a writer or other creator, brings a nice look at everything. He understands a lot about film theory and structure, and can deliver that information through the lens of horror. Perhaps he doesn't belong on this list, but I do love Nyx and think he's a worthwhile channel to check into.

Now, the rest of these channels I found through Night Mind, in fact. Not ScareTheater. I will always prefer Night Mind above everything else, but a lot of the difference here is length. Nick Nocturne puts out long content, but puts it out considerably less often. ScareTheater's videos run anywhere from 3-7 minutes on average. ScareTheater covers a lot of short content, too. Videos like "Obey the Walrus" and "Mareana Mordegard Glesgorv." His content on longer-running series is, in my opinion, just not up to snuff, but I will happily queue up two dozen of his short videos and run through them while I'm working.

There are others who touch on the community that I think really deserve attention, but maybe don't quite fit the mold. Tats Top Videos has some excellent creepy content, but it's not the channel's main devotion. Arkham Reporter and The Exploring Series both have a fair amount of content if you're looking for Cthulhu/Lovecraft information. My last one is a real departure, but Pop Culture Mythology/Mixology is a lovely channel... or was, anyway. It's been six months, which is a death knoll for most Youtube channels. I'm holding out hope, though, because his content was so good. Not all horror, but... well, I guess I'm putting out a bit of a PSA. Not pressuring him to return, but maybe he'll feel better about continuing if he knows people are interested? I don't know. But, one creator to another, I love the content he created. A lot of people did, I imagine. So if it's life, I understand. But if you happen to read this and are just discouraged... you make good content. That's all I can say to you. You make good content.

So all that aside, that's what I've got. Hopefully it can help you out and, if you have any that I missed and just really need to know about, leave them in the comments below.


Friday, May 19, 2017

The Creeping Darkness Sithers... Erm.... Update

Hello from the other side!

Of the screen. Jeez, I'm not dead. And if I were, I'd like to think I'd have something a little cleverer than that.

I digress. How are all of you? I haven't posted in a little over two weeks, but it feels like so much longer than that. A lot has happened since that last post, both in the world and just in my life. For the world stuff, I'll leave it to you to find out everything that's been going on (There have certainly been some things worthy of a distraction lately.).

As for me? Well, I've been reading a bit more than usual (Thankfully), especially an anthology I nabbed from the library – The Weird, compiled by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer. Their names will be really well-known to anyone who enjoys weird and new weird fiction, as they've implanted themselves firmly into the middle of those two genres.

I've taken to reading them specifically because I love those genres. Well, I always have, and I've talked about it in the past, especially new weird. But until recently, I'd never really tried writing anything even close to them. But I have and I have to say I'm in love.

I fully believe that authors evolve as they write and they slowly sink into niches within their chosen genres. Well, that's what's happened. At least for now. I also don't really think those are permanent changes, necessarily. But I do foresee a lot of Lovecraftian fiction, weird fiction, and just generally darker, more disturbed pieces coming from me in the near future. It's under my skin… maybe literally.

Haha. Horror humor. I'm definitely not infested by mind-controlling insects…

On that same front, I have news… almost. I almost have news. I'll have news in about a week or so, but suffice it to say I've made it into a rather prestigious anthology with a Lovecraftian sword and sorcery story. More news on that pretty shortly.

I mostly just wanted to give you guys an update to let you know that I'm still plugging away. I will be finishing Evenstad Media, unless plans really, really change. Book five is in the editing queue as we speak, so if you're waiting for that, no worries.

I will be putting the King Jester Trilogy back up for sale. They need to be revised and I need covers for them, but then they'll be available once more.

But I will also, at some point, begin going darker in the books too. Creepier. Eerier. Skin-crawlier. Now, I know my work has never been unicorns and rainbows, exactly, but it hasn't been dealing with quite the same themes as I've been playing with lately. So if you've been craving something with a little more oomph, I can (Hopefully.) provide that for you in the coming months.

Now, that's really not to say everything is going to be that way. But it is going to happen. So fair warning… or fair notice, if you're into it, I guess.

And stay tuned to the blog and my Facebook and whatnot for news on that anthology next week.


Friday, April 28, 2017

New Anthology: Alternative Truths

You may have heard about the 45th President of the United States a couple times.


It's possible.

Well, so did a bunch of authors. A bunch of authors who wanted to do something about... that whole thing. But what the hell were those authors to do?

They were to write, of course. Hence, Alternative Truths was born. 24 tales from authors who #standwithher.

24 glimpses into the potential futures, from the hopeful to the hopeless (Guess which one mine was? Hopeless. The answer's hopeless.).

"Nevertheless, she persisted," is our favorite slogan to come out of all this, and we do miss all those complete sentences. If you're lucky, you might even find a few in the stories.

Stand up. Resist. And get some great fiction all at the same time.

Monday, March 27, 2017

4 (Or 5?) Must See Animated Features

So over the weekend, David Gerrold (The guy who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles) shared his list of "Essential Animated Films." You can (Hopefully) see that over on his Facebook page... assuming he hasn't changed his privacy settings again.

I thought he had some good choices. I can agree with a lot of them… but I still felt compelled to shamelessly steal the idea present my own list, for comparison and for posterity and all that jazz.

Now, as with David Gerrold's original list, this isn't in any order of magnitude or anything like that. The first movie isn't necessarily worse than the last one. But I do want to separate out one movie from the list, since I can't fully commit to calling it an "animated film." That movie is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It's silly. It's campy. But it's brilliant. The animated portions are gorgeously created, Bob Hoskins was genius, and the combination of live action and animation was handled beautifully well. I really can't complain about it.

Now… onto the list proper!

Fantasia/Fantasia 2000
I'm cheating already. It's true. Not only is this two movies, but they're both technically a combination of live action and animation… which I said was a no-no.

Hear me out.

The Fantasia duology really need each other to make this list for me. Fantasia is one of the first forays of "modern animation" into making something for adults. It took itself very seriously, played classic pieces with sophisticated animation that still holds up.

Fantasia 2000 is really aiming at that children's market, and it suffers for it. As a whole, it's a worse piece of cinematic history than its predecessor… but the animation itself is just ballsier. It's more intense than the pieces in Fantasia, and in a lot of instances, much more beautiful. So I have to put them both here for this to really work. Watch them both. I mean, come on, they're both on Netflix.

Titan AE
Titan AE is what happens when you get Gary Oldman, Don Bluth, and Joss Whedon working on a project together. And if you're not sold on just that… what the hell is wrong with you?

Okay, okay, let's get into it: one of my biggest issues with Gerrold's list was the absolute lack of Don Bluth. In my opinion, you can't have a "quintessential animation" anything and not include Don Bluth.

But why this one? It was a flop when it was released. It's positively dripping with some kind of funky 1990's slime substance (Probably hair gel.). What makes it so worth seeing 17 years after the fact?

This movie is genius. It has humor. It has drama. It has sweeping spacescapes. It has a truly terrifying enemy. And, unlike a lot of movies this old, the animation actually holds up. So does the story. You can put Titan AE on now, and it's still an incredible experience.

The Incredibles
On this one, Gerrold and I can agree wholeheartedly. The Incredibles is, perhaps, the single best superhero film that's ever been made. Sure, I love Burton's Batman and the X-Men franchise… but they don't hold a candle to this.

Superheroes in real life, dealing with real things. What happens when someone with super-strength feels like they're losing control? Who does make all these fancy costumes? What about the massive damage to buildings and infrastructure? The Incredibles actually addressed those problems, and I think, beyond just being brilliant animation, that's really something good for the genre as a whole. It's a new direction, and that's never something I'll complain about.

Spirited Away
Now, when it comes to Ghibli and Miyazaki, I vastly prefer Howl's Moving Castle to basically any of his other films. But I can't deny the pure social and cultural impact of Spirited Away. For Western audiences, this is the one that put Miyazaki on the map. Winner of multiple awards, including the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. And it deserves all of those accolades. For many people, Spirited Away is what really introduced them to the idea of anime that wasn't Digimon and Pokemon and "Which one is which, now?"

For my money, I would rather see Howl or Princess Mononoke, but Spirited Away will never disappoint.

Now, this list is obviously far from exhaustive. For pure social impact, it should have The Lion King on it. Inside Out could easily make this list, too. Shrek. The Nightmare Before Christmas. The first eight minutes of Up. The Iron Giant. Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas. Atlantis: The Lost Empire. These are all movies that, for one reason or another, could be here.

But without limitations, this could be a list of "Disney Films that Disney Made Because Disney" or "Look at What Pixar Has" or "Hayao Miyazaki is Amazing!" And sure, those are all valid lists.

So, perhaps this isn't quintessential as much as just… watch these. Don't forget about these. In the ever-growing sea of animated, feature-length productions… these four/five movies might get forgotten in the slew of Zootopia and WALL-E. So… offer them a hand up and take a look at them.

What are your "must-see" animated movies? I'm always on the lookout for new ones.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Top 5: Modern SF/F Magazines

I've often spoken and written about how short fiction is the life blood of sci-fi and fantasy. I grow more convinced of this all the time. Almost every great, well-known SF/F author has a massive backlog of short stories that you could peruse. Hell, some of them made their entire living on short fiction.

But that lifeblood doesn't flow if nobody can pay for those short stories… so magazines. People have to read magazines for the magazines to pay authors. And there's a lot of them out there. The list I have here is in no way extensive. These are just my five favorite SF/F rags this week. They're all magazines I think deserve a little support, because they do good work. They put out quality fiction, and that should be rewarded, in my opinion.

5: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
It would be hard to do this list without mentioning this particular magazine. It's been around since before the web (This marks year 67 of publication), and it's collected a lot of just straight-up quality pieces in that time. It's hard to apply a general qualifier to all of the work they publish, as it really ranges across the board. The only thing that ties it all together is how plain-old good the fiction is.

You can get a subscription to them starting at around $37. Why such a steep price? We're talking physical magazines in your mailbox.

4: Daily Science Fiction
While the whole body of work isn't going to be to everyone's tastes (They publish five days a week, 52 weeks per year.), something in DSF is going to appeal to everyone. My main reason for including this one is that it's free. Completely free, a short (Very short) story delivered to your inbox five days a week, entirely free of charge.

So if you want to subscribe, just go over here.

3: Shimmer
Shimmer is a weird one. I'm not judging – they'll admit it. Their fiction is beautifully written and stylistic. A lot of magazines focus on how their fiction isn't pretentious and doesn't take itself to seriously. Shimmer is pretentious and it does take itself seriously. Very seriously, in the best of ways. It's the very fact that the authors take their work so seriously that makes Shimmer such an incredible magazine to read.

Shimmer is just $15/year, so why not give them a chance?

2: Fireside Magazine
Shimmer is strange. Fireside is strange, but more accessible to the general populous. Very heavy focus on character and concept If those are the kinds of things you like to see in your stories, I really can't recommend Fireside heavily enough. They're very selective, and it really shows.

They're also free, but they pay their authors very well, and they're entirely kept afloat by crowdfunding, so consider throwing something atthem, if you enjoy their work.

1: Clarkesworld Magazine
Now, I love all the magazines before this, as well as a lot of others that didn't make the list (Basically just because I didn't have space.). But this one was always going to be on the list. It was always going to be number one on the list. If I had to pick one SF/F mag to read for the rest of my life, it would be Clarkesworld. There's just something about these stories. They are purely character-driven, more than any other selection of short fiction I've ever seen. Their stories are consistently up for various awards when that season rolls around. It's one of very few sources of fiction that has provided me with a story that changed the way I think about science fiction and writing and the way short stories should be structured.

They run as low as $2.99 per issue, so it's pretty hard to beat that, in my opinion. I can't recommend a Clarkesworld Subscription enough. I really, really can't.

And that's my little primer on SF/F mags. As I said, there are a lot more of them out there that I didn't get to put in. Maybe I'll put them into another post… or two… or three. However many it takes.

Happy Thursday, everyone!


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On "Arrival," Sapir-Whorf, and "Bad Science"

So, let's just get this one out of the way: there are probably spoilers in here for Arrival. So if you haven't seen it and you're planning on it, you've been properly warned.

Now that's done, let's get right into it – Dumbledore dies at the end. I know, I didn't see it coming either. It was a really weird change of pace from the aliens and science and spaceships and shit, but who am I to question someone else's artistic vision?

But really, Arrival was one that I was initially very unenthused about (Jesus, that word looks weird. I don't think I've ever seen "unenthused" written down before…). It looked like one more first contact movie, and one that was going to be taking itself a little bit too seriously to really hit any of the magic that it could have had. So of course, I didn't see it in theaters (Also because I don't watch movies in theaters. I think the last one I saw on the big screen was The Force Awakens.).

Then I found out the main character was a linguist. As a writer and as a general nerd, that really got my attention. I think we need more sci-fi with actual scientists as main characters. People doing science in science fiction shouldn't be as hard to find as it currently is. So that convinced me to watch it. Plus, at two bucks, it was more than worth the rental price (Bless those little DVD machines that sit in grocery stores, and bless whoever decided they wanted to put one in Podunk-ville, BFE Washington.).

Now, this is where we get into real spoilers, so your last warning. I won't tell you again. Flee now.

Okay, so the actual premise for Arrival is something known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. There's lots of articles online and lots of information about it, so I won't go into great detail on the specifics or the history. You need to know two things about it for this article to really make sense.

1: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, in a nutshell, states that language shapes human perception of the world. A person who learned about the world in Chinese will have not just different words, but a different experience of life.

2: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is, at best, heavily disputed and, at worst, a crock of shit. It all depends on which linguist you ask, but the linguists who subscribe to Sapir-Whorf are few and far between.

Why didn't they know about this? How could their science be so bad? That ruins the entire movie! God damn you Hollywood, stop contributing to the dumbing down of America!

I'm sure some people out there would have that reaction learning this information. It did initially strike me as odd when I looked into it, I admit, but I had to stop and question why… and hence, we have this entire post.

I'll get this out of the way now, then explain it: I don't think using Sapir-Whorf as the basis of the movie in any way devalues the film.

Now yes, you could argue that we should be following modern trends in linguistics if we're going to make a movie about linguistics (Also: let's just stop and appreciate the fact that there's a big-budget, popular film about linguistics out there now.). But again, I have two points to make.

1: Science fiction has always, at its core, been an exploration of possibility. What if you traveled 10,000 years into the future of Earth? What if dragons were genetically created? What if the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis was not only valid, but correct?

2: Sapir-Whorf has to be correct for Arrival to get its message across. It's about determinism, and Sapir-Whorf provided an opening for them to explore that (I'm skipping steps in there, obviously, but that's the simplified version.).

Some people will posit that, because it's not realistic enough, it's just no good. But really, did any of us expect a realistic movie about first contact? No. But what we got was, if questionably possible, very intellectually stimulating. There aren't many movies out there anymore that exist entirely to make you question things, to make you think about the world in-depth. They tend to be considered "too risky" for big production companies, I would imagine. They can make much more money by pumping out Fast­2(Furious + 47X) or whatever naming convention they go with this time around (Seriously, those movies are a mess and a half. I enjoy them… but what ever happened to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7?).

My hypothesis that I'm sure will be proven wrong? Arrival opened a door that we can start to get some more intellectual works through. We can start to have stimulating thought experiments and breakdowns of science in the two hours we spend glued to the screen watching the next big-name flick.

But even though that's almost definitely not correct and almost certainly won't happen, I think Arrival is an important movie, both for its daring and for me personally. It dared to be smart. And it made me think. It got me thinking. I hope it gets everyone else thinking, too, but it sent me down this particular rabbit-hole.

Being smart is fun. Learning is fun. Knowing things is fun. Sometimes we just need a bit of a reminder of that, and I think Arrival—in large part thanks to its use of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis—can be that. It can do that.

To me, that's worth more than all the correct hypotheses in the world.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

5 Quintessential Short Stories

Well, it's still snowing and still cold. If I keep mentioning that, and then I die in the snowpocalypse, this will… well, all the mentions of the weather will probably make this actually horribly dull to read, in the end. So let's get past that.

You may have noticed that I've been talking about short stories a lot lately. I've mentioned that I refocused to increase my short story output. That involves reading a lot of them, and thinking about them a lot. And I've been thinking about sort of the quintessential list of short stories. Or at least my list of quintessential short stories. Some of them are new, a lot of them are old, and they're not in any quantifiable order. I just wanted to put them out in the world for people to see. And there's only five, because I would have been here all day if I didn't give myself some kind of limit. There are obviously many, many more stories out there worth the time to read.

1: Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
This is one that still haunts me with its… everything. It's a brilliant piece of magical realism that really deserves to be read and scrutinized and discussed. It has been, but not by everyone. It resides in Yale and Harvard classrooms instead of in raucous bars and cocktail parties. Which is where it belongs, because it's really a story for everyone.

2: Berenice
I pretty regularly cite this as the best of Poe. It's body horror. It's eerie. It deals with some strange family relationships (And by strange, I mean potentially illegal by modern standards.). There's insanity. It's everything there is to love about Poe, all together at last. It's so dear to me, in fact, that I wrote an homage to it (Here, if you're interested.).

3: Today I am Paul
This is a recent one. It was up for a Hugo last year, but I feel no remorse putting it on this list. Poignant, well-written, and surprising. It's an emotional ride through the future well worth taking.

4: For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn
That's both the title and the entirety of the text. Six words that really show what language can convey. I've always said the goal of flash fiction is not to tell a story, but to capture an emotion, and this is one that succeeds beyond belief.

5: Flowers for Algernon (Can't give you a link for free on this one. Still under copyright!)
Absolutely one that must be read. I've been through the short story as well as the novel that spawned from it. While I will always recommend the novel version of this, the short story completely deserves its place on this list.

Those are my five. They'll probably change by this time next year. Or even next month. But for now, this is the list. What are your short story recommendations for me (And the rest of the comments.)?


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review: The Long List Volume 2

So, if you've been hanging around for a bit, you might have noticed the odd review float by, and you might have noticed that I settled on a format: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Highly original? Of course not, but it works.

Then what's this? Well, it's a review of a book that really doesn't work with that… in point of fact, it's not even a review of a whole book. It's about half a book, since there's a fairly clear delineation between the two halves. This is a review of The Long List Volume 2. Or the short stories therein, at least.

What is The Long List? Well, to know that you have to know The Hugo Awards. They're fan-voted awards in the SF/F community, and one of the categories is for best short fiction of the year. There's only 1 winner and 5 semi-finalists, for lack of a better term, but there are a lot of other stories that get mentioned almost enough to make that "short list." That's The Long List, and it's been compiled into an anthology by the wonderful David Steffen over at Diabolical Plots, and made available for everyone's compact, easy reading pleasure.

So why am I only doing half? Well, there are a lot of shorts, but for stretch goals for the crowdfunding to make the book happen, novellas were included. I'll be doing those as a separate post. Or possibly more than one, depending how in-depth I go with each one. But that's enough of this pointless chattering explanation: onto the fiction!

(Note: there are two non-fiction pieces in here as well. If I cover them, they'll be on their own as well.)

Damage by David D. Levine: This was a well-written piece, but not particularly mind-blowing. It's a solid story with good writing, and it was an enjoyable read, but I do feel like I've seen all the elements before, just not in precisely that configuration.

Pockets Amal El-Mothar: If you enjoy magical realism, this will be a real standout for you. I was thrilled to see representation for a genre that seems to be largely pushed aside. That said, the plot is the weak point. This story is all about concept and execution, and in those places it succeeds.

Today I am Paul by Martin L. Shoemaker: Holy shit, guys. This one. I had specific complaints about the first two. They were good, but flawed. This story is… perfect. If nothing else, try this one out of the anthology. And keep the tissues ready.

Tuesdays with Molakesh the Destroyer by Megan Grey: Not only well written, but placed very well after Today I am Paul to lighten things up. It's got brash humor and adult language and it works beautifully: what else would you expect from a rebellious teenager and a retired demon?

Wooden Feathers by Ursula Vernon: Both beautiful and bittersweet, this story all by itself convinced me to take a harder look at Ursula Vernon. Gorgeous imagery, surprising plot twists, and subtle writing make this both brilliant fiction and a wonderful statement about art and artists.

Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight by Aliette de Bodard: This one is unique, and it revels in that. With a distinctly non-Western vibe permeating everything, it's intriguing, but perhaps not for everyone. Don’t look for a tight, gripping plot. Don't look for a plot at all. At most, you'll find a shadow. But these three short vignettes create something magical and haunting that's well worth the read.

Madeleine by Amal El-Mothar: This, for me, is one of the two weakest stories in the collection. It's still very strongly written, has emotional impact, is compelling enough to carry you through the story… but we really have seen this exact thing quite a lot. Don't go into this one expecting really anything original at all.

Pocosin by Ursula Vernon: This is really, truly an atmospheric piece. A good high-middle quality piece for this collection. It's all about the setting and the main character. Nothing else really matters, and that's okay. That's exactly the way this story should be. It's perfectly quirky and odd in all the right places.

Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong: Wow. This one doesn't seem like much of anything at first, and it unfolds a million delicate, beautiful petals. It's very rich and sensory. If you like strong descriptions, you'll love this one, no doubt.

So Much Cooking by Naomi Kritzer: All right then. If I were to include an "Ugly" section in this review, it would be occupied by this story. Yes, the writing is cogent. I understand it. I obviously don't have a problem with epistolary storytelling. I have four books that do it. But this… it was dull. It felt dated by the threat of Bird Flu, as though this was written when that was a headline, but then kept in a trunk for whatever reason. And possibly the thing that hit it the hardest: it didn't feel like an SF/F story. The one speculative element—a much stronger Bird Flu epidemic—felt unimportant. It could have been any threat at all. But it also felt… mundane. It just missed all the marks for me, unfortunately.

The Deepwater Bride by Tamsyn Muir: All right, this one sort of straddles the line between short story and novelette, so I'm tucking it in here. This one is delightful. I love the eldritch horror/lovecraft thing, I love psychics, and I love the general vibe this story provided. More than worth the read.

And there's that. I don't know when we'll finish off this review, since I'm plugging away at my work, but here's hoping it won't be too long. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go shovel myself a walking path.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year 2017

New Year, New Me…

Okay, I hate myself a little, even if I did type it entirely for the purpose of this joke. Feel free to stone me for that. Seriously.

This isn't going to be a big post, I just wanted to sincerely offer all of you my wishes for a happy 2017. Not just happy. Fulfilled and gorgeous and perfect. For someone who writes for a living (Writes with words, nonetheless.), I have an awful lot of trouble putting into words what all this means to me. Having you reading this, and reading my books. Whether you just found me or you've been here since this crazy adventure started all the way in 2011, it means the world to me that you're sitting on the other end of this screen, spending your time with whatever I've written. It's… see, I'm trying to use words and failing miserably. It brings me to tears knowing that I have this connection, and while I'm an admittedly emotional person (Seriously, I've been known to cry at Dora the Explorer.), it's still indicative of some pretty powerful emotions.

So in 2017: let's have more love and more learning and more light… and possibly something else that starts with "L," since I inadvertently locked myself into a pattern, apparently. Let's eat good food and drink fine wines and quality vodka. Let's hug people who need it and leave people behind who are bad for us. Let's cry and let's laugh and let's just do everything we've always wanted to do and been too afraid to try. Whatever that is for you, tackle it. Let's all tackle something good.

But just in general? I hope 2017 is the best year you've had yet.