Progress Blog: Random Writing Advice

Is it time for another progress blog?  You bet!  Today, I’m going to give everyone some unsolicited random writing advice!  What will we cover?  All the stupid basics!

Writing Advice is Silly

Rule #1 of writing advice: shrug it all off.  Every writer seems to have different and often contradictory ‘rules’ about writing.  People generally agree that every author should have a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style but beyond that, well, it’s just experience and opinion.  Some experience and opinion is valued more highly than others, of course.  For instance, most writers I’ve met (especially genre writers) have a copy of Stephen Kings advice/memoir book On Writing.  I’m personally a huge fan of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences About Writing.

But if we’re all being completely honest, if writing were a science, computers would already be doing it.

Thankfully, current AI only seems able to generate acclaim-worthy work with about 80% of the heavy lifting being done by humans.  So the work of the writer remains unmechanized for now.  Though anyone working in print should murder the hope of any sort of retirement, if they haven’t already.

Point being: this isn’t science.  It isn’t math.  And considering the ever-evolving state of slang, colloquialism, and grammar, particularly in the fast-paced American language, maybe we should be careful about marrying any specific rules set, especially early in the game.  But anyway,

Never Ban Words

Almost every writing-advice listicle I read includes a list of words to avoid.  Commonly, “don’t use adverbs” (see what I did there?)  Injunctions against filler words, filter words, and frilly words follow.  Passive voice?  Cut it.  Too many syllables?  Cut it.  Does it end in -ly?  You should be ashamed.

A sentence should be short, no?  Sure.  That makes sense.  But a sentence should also flow, describe, evoke, and build.  It should sound nice.  It should look nice, too.  There should be rhythm!

Arranging words is similar to arranging music.

Don’t limit yourself or box yourself in.  Step 1: write.  Sometimes you’ll use adverbs.  Sometimes there’s an aesthetic pleasure to multi-syllabic verbs and adjectives.  Even passive voice has its place.  There’s an old adage somewhere about moderation but who can ever remember it?

If you bind yourself too tightly with banned words and grammatical restrictions, you’ll shrink your toolbox.  You’ll narrow your knowledge.  Try, instead, to expand your toolbox.  Use fuckin’ everything.

But don’t bother showing anyone your first draft, because it’s probably awful.

Instead, after you’ve got it down, focus on

Editing, Editing, Editing…

Did you think writing was about writing?

Oh you poor, sweet summer child…

Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes.  Rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again, and then, once that’s done, revising and revising and revising.  Whether you’re self-published, indie-published, trad-published, or if you’re selling handbound chap books on the subway platform, it doesn’t matter.  If you’re selling your first draft, or even your second draft, you’re probably selling shit.

More than half of your first draft is garbage, I hate to say.  I usually start my second draft from scratch, from a pure-blank page, just to avoid using the same garbage prose of my first draft.  The first draft anyone besides yourself should see is your second draft.  More realistically, your second draft after a couple rounds of polish and revision.

That’s because you probably have a ton of stuff to fix.

A List of Questions, or: Fixing Your Terrible First Draft

Approach your first draft as you would approach a vile, pulsing heap of red-green biomatter squirming on your kitchen floor–that is: with revulsion, disgust, and a weapon.

If a small part of you doesn’t hate your first draft as soon as you’re done with it, I advise shelving it for a while and continuing to hone your craft by reading/writing more and more for a few months.  By the time 4-5 months have passed, you’ll have read/written enough more to be properly revolted by your earlier work.

Now it’s time to pick it up, examine it, and make with the stabbing.

I’ve prepared a list of questions for you to ask yourself as you stab.  It’s a list of questions I mutter to myself while editing and sometimes while I sleep.

  1. Are these words necessary?  (for instance, “he saw the biomass pulse, its veins throbbing with red-black fluid” likely doesn’t require “he saw,” and it can probably be rearranged to excise the redundant ‘pulse’ and ‘throb’ verbiage.)
  2. Does the sentence sound good?  (reading a manuscript aloud will help track down and gut all sorts of hiccups and arrhythmia in the prose.)
  3. What is the sentence doing?  (are we learning about the character, action, setting, plot, etc?  What do these words contribute to the work?  If they don’t contribute, kill them.  Think of editing like a sci-fi dystopian world where non-contributors are casually slaughtered.)
  4.  Is the meaning clear?  (an over-clutter of words, uncertain punctuation, or unclear noun/adjective/verb pairings can all confuse readers and destroy prose quality.)
  5. Is this shit boring?  (as Elmore Leonard put it, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”  As a director friend once put it: “The audience will forgive you almost anything, as long as you’re not boring.” — protip: if it was boring to write, it’ll be doubly boring to read.)
  6. Is this repetitive?  (Does every sentence begin the same way?  Have you used the same word too many times in a page, or, heaven forbid, in a paragraph?)
  7. Is there a volume issue?  (Does the lurid text border on purple?  Does the simplicity threaten austerity?  Are the words too much, too little?  This is the most subjective measurement, but very important.)
  8. Why?  (Admittedly, I mutter this question to myself all the time, usually as a hollow whisper, a mournful murmur.  “Why?” I ask, about everything, about everything all at once, from one horizon to the other.  It’s also an important question about writing, though.  There should be a ‘why’ behind just about every word, sentence, and paragraph on a page.)

I think that’s a fine list to start with–though the more one writes, the longer and more complex the list becomes.  I do believe that covers all the basics, however, and some of the intermediate steps.

Don’t Stop

Write several times a week.  Read at least a little bit every day.  Take classes when available, if affordable.  Show your second and third drafts to people and don’t shout down their criticisms (it’s very important, when asking for criticism, to listen to it.)  Probably truer than any other piece of advice, “practice makes perfect.”

Read great writers.  For quality of prose, I adore Cassandra Khaw, T. E. Grau, and Leni Zumas.  For tight pacing, humor, and pulp craft, Raymond Chandler and Charlie Huston.  Victor LaValle mastered the art of music and aesthetic long ago.  A thousand other authors await your eyes, if you go looking.

Read voraciously and write viciously.  Edit with unparalleled self-loathing.  Brainstorm with fervor and madness, outline with enthusiasm, and write like a toothless speed freak.  Review your work like an IRS auditor.  Study the craft as if there’ll be a test on it any day now and you’ll be killed if you fail it.

That’s my advice.  To hell with banned words and meditation.  To hell with a thousand articles condemning adverbs and POV-filters and purple prose.  To hell with anything that constrains your toolbox.  Those tools are there for a reason, we just have to learn when and how to use them.

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Reading Suggestions: International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day!  And I have some reading suggestions.

I know what you’re thinking: dude, nobody cares about your stupid opinion.  I know!  But I’m going to do it anyway.

Of course, there are certainly obvious books to read for International Women’s Day.  Ain’t I a Woman, by bell hooks.  Girls to the Front, by Sara Marcus.  Cunt, by Inga Muscio.  There are many amazing books on the topics of intersectional feminism.  But I’m not going to write about those books.  Feminism and feminist theory are very important, of course, but I don’t have the breadth of knowledge required to make a list of must-reads in that area.  Instead, I’m going to write about really awesome, amazing books that happen to have awesome, amazing female authors.

For instance,

Anything by C. V. Hunt

C. V. Hunt is, according to her website, “the author of several unpopular books.”

Hunt is also an entertaining, transgressive, hilarious author of dark fantasy and horror.  Some of my favorites include Ritualistic Human Sacrifice and Misery and Death and Everything Depressing, both of which will make you laugh and cringe and wince.

You can pick up Hunt’s books in paperback, kindle, and even audiobook.  If you’re into it, you can also pre-order her upcoming work, Home is Where the Horror Is.

Something in the Potato Room by Heather Cousins

Do you like prose-poetry?  Do you appreciate beautiful language?  A fan of dark subject matter?  Heather Cousins wrote the book for you.

Something in the Potato Room is a beautiful book, brilliantly written, about deeply unsettling subject matter.  The line between fact and fantasy blurs and quivers in this gorgeous, liminal work.  Relatable and harrowing with an exquisite sense of language, Something in the Potato Room reaches into the dark recesses of the human spirit to find the exact spot where decay blooms into life again.  Or…something like that…

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods is a collection of short faerie tales bundled up with striking illustrations and gorgeous graphic layout.  Creepy, haunting, and even heart-warming, Through the Woods collects emotionally diverse and fascinating stories.

I can’t get these stories out of my head.  Sometimes, out of nowhere, maybe on a subway platform or just walking down the street, I’ll get the lyrical lines of “Cold Hands” stuck in my head.  They’re so good.  So bloody good.  Of course, this isn’t the only work Emily Carroll has been involved with and her site will give you an idea about the breadth of her other work.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble is another collection–this time of short stories.  Kelly Link has been hailed as a bold and brilliant voice in contemporary fantasy and sci-fi–for good reason, too!  These stories are intelligent, charming, and moving.  Her excellent prose and storytelling skills really shine in this award-winning collection, and I personally had a fantastic time reading it.  Link’s ability to examine tropes and genres in fresh and interesting ways is virtually unmatched.  If you haven’t given Link’s works a read, yet, I highly recommend you do…and what better place to start than this cool collection of short stories?

The Listeners by Leni Zumas

If you’re looking for something a little more ‘literary,’ The Listeners is for you.  Leni Zumas’ use of language shows an expert command of English and a willingness to commit to heightened and experimental styles.  Zumas’ sentences are razor-edged and cunning.  Though it uses references and metaphor from the genre world, The Listeners takes place very much in an unmagical reality.  Dripping with meaty imagery, cut wide with sharp and razored prose, and bleeding with emotional turmoil, the book is a brutal crime scene of real-life.  The plot is a bit weak, but the characters are deep deep deep and the language is to die for.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

It’s a thriller.  A supernatural thriller?  Who knows!  Night Film plays with concepts of belief and faith, and makes extensive use of the subjective nature of ‘reality’ and ‘fact.’  The beauty of Marisha Pessl’s work is in the storytelling, her ability to play games with what is known and what is unknown, and how thin the line between.  The charming, enrapturing characters help, too.  A spiral of madness and a thriller well worth reading, I recommend picking up Night Film in any of its various forms immediately.

Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra

If you’re a fan of close-to-life fictionalized accounts, Gonzo Girl is fantastic.  Pietra was an assistant to Hunter S. Thompson for, well, long enough, and her time in this role serves as the prime inspiration behind this wild, crazy ride.  It follows a newbie editor out of NYC as she’s pulled into the orbit of a madman writer out in the middle of chaotic, drug-fueled nowhere.

Cheryl Della Pietra has also been a magazine editor and short story writer.

Gutshot by Amelia Gray

Amelia Gray is a lovely writer.  Her stories are hilarious, personal, deep, cutting, jarring, and dark.  Is that too many adjectives?  Too bad!  They’re all accurate.  And Gutshot is an amazing collection of her work.  More than once, I winced.  Many times, I cackled.  I didn’t cry at any point, but there were definitely very poignant moments.  I highly recommend checking out her work, and particularly picking up this gem of a collection.  Hey, if the New York Times says it’s “bizarre and darkly funny,” who am I to disagree?

Did You Get All That?  Good.

This is just a short list, of course.  I didn’t have anything by Octavia Butler!  And Octavia Butler is a brilliant author.  Kindred is a famous, amazing work!  And it has a graphic novel adaptation.

I also left off several amazing female-oriented collections, such as Sisters of the Revolution (a collection of female-authored spec-fiction works) or She Walks in Shadows (a collection of female-authored Lovecraftian works).  These collections showcase an incredible range and breadth of talented authors, and I don’t think I can finish this blog entry without mentioning them.

And I shouldn’t exeunt stage left without giving a shout out to my favorite guilty pleasure series… My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland, is perfect beach-reading in my opinion.

The Library Is Endless

I suppose that’s a good enough start.  I still feel as if I’ve left out a virtual library of brilliant work, but that’s bound to happen with a list like this.  Anyway, this has been a list of works by some of my favorite female authors, in no particular order, with no particular organization.  Just off the top of my head.

I didn’t even get to do shout-outs to my favorite short story writers whose longer works I haven’t read yet.  But maybe we’ll save that for another list.

In the meantime, I think I’ve put together a really nice starter-list for anyone seeking a good book.

Go forth and read!

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Why Dark Fiction?

Hello, imaginary public, and welcome to today’s process blog entry: “Why Dark Fiction?”

Some time ago, on the internet, while discussing writing with a bunch of fellow writers (whom I’ll likely never meet in person), I was posed a question by someone who had actually read some of my work.  At first, I was stunned, because who reads my work?  But, then, I decided to answer the question.  The question, in essence, asked why I so rarely included ‘redemptive’ endings in my stories.

I assumed (s)he was asking about the ending of No Grave, because it seemed like a safe assumption to make.  My short stories don’t allow for a wide variety of endings, to be honest.  A story entitled “A Black House Rots North of Town” does not seem to promise a happy ending.

But it’s a fair question.  It taps into a kind of debate that I’ve seen people get involved with, before.  Especially in genre fiction–fantasy and sci-fi and such–where part of the allure is escapism: what ending do we provide an audience?  Are authors obligated to leave the audience at-ease?  Are we obligated to try to improve their real-life suffering by providing fictional easement?

My answer is unsurprisingly non-committal.  Mostly, my answer is an awkward, uncomfortable face and a series of tense, shrug-like gestures.  A few sounds akin to words like “eh?” and “maybe?” and “kinda?” and “iunno?”  Luckily, I mostly see this debate on the internet, where I’m able to scroll past without comment.  When asked about it on a forum, I provided a neat, clean paragraph that hardly covered my actual opinion.

But today, I’m throwing in my 2-cents.  And a writing prompt at the end.

Stop Reading Now If You Don’t Want No Grave Spoilers.

Seriously.  I’m not going to get too specific, but you’ll know the approximate ending if you keep reading.

Assuming you care.

Which, if you don’t, that’s okay, too.

Alright: last chance to stop reading.

Seriously, you can scroll down to the writing prompt and skip all this.

Still here?

Great.

So, several people I’ve spoken to regarding No Grave have some issues with the ending.  It’s a bit dreary.  The ‘good guys’ (to the extent any of them can be called ‘good’) sort of lose.  Or, at least, they certainly don’t ‘win.’  Whatever that means.  And the main character makes a choice that is deeply selfish in the face of great evil.  (For the record, I would probably make the same choice).  Perhaps worse: once the selfish choice is made, she’s not particularly effective at carrying it out.  It all seems pretty unpleasant.

Well, sure, but that’s the point.

I find it therapeutic actually.  Because, in real life, we lose all the time.  Or we make choices that don’t pan out.  Or we try to save people and they die anyway.  Et cetera.  Mostly, we’re very small and weak and human.  We fail probably more often than we succeed.

And this is the important part: that’s okay.

Tristan makes a terrible mistake and tries to salvage it and it doesn’t work.  Nicole commits to a losing proposition after essentially being pressured into it and she gets scared and doesn’t do it.  Cyrus pursues his own interests selfishly until he sees how far people will go for each other and then those people get fucked because of him.  Even though he tries his hardest to turn over a new leaf and save them, it’s just too-little-too-late.

So what happens, then?  Everyone packs it in, tail between their legs, goes home, and eats a bullet.  No, wait, that’s not what happens at all.  They take their moment, they mourn, they cry about it, they feel guilt and pain and suffering and then they pick themselves up and get ready to try again.  They’re getting licked out there and they huddle up, count off, and prepare to hit the field.  Once more into the breach and all that.

As far as I’m concerned, their failure is a message of hope.

Let me explain.

Escapism vs. Hope

‘Escapism’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘complete fantasy.’  I don’t need to tell a story where the good guys win.  I don’t think the ‘good guys win’ formula is terribly hopeful.  Optimistic, sure, but not hopeful.  Hope isn’t hard to do when you’re winning.  Hope is hard to do when you’re losing.  And that’s the narrative I’m building.  Losing isn’t the end of a thing and neither is failure.  Loss and failure are just things that happen.  People make bad decisions, selfish decisions, wrong decisions.  People fuck up.  Then they try again.  Most of us will probably die with works unfinished and we hope others pick up where we left off.  The world spends a few months raining shit down on us and we hope we do better next time.  Hope isn’t in a victory, it’s in the attempt.

I have no desire to sell the ‘good guys win’ narrative, or any narrative of false optimism.  Or any narrative that feels false to me at all.  Sure, sometimes the good guys will win, I’ve definitely written and outlined stories where that’s what happens–because that’s what makes sense.  But in the main, that’s not the product I peddle.  My type of escapism doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, or a ‘redemptive’ ending as it was put to me.  But I don’t think people need those.  I don’t think they’re particularly helpful.  I don’t think they’re necessarily useful in easing real-life suffering or imbuing an audience with a sense of hope or wellness.  Instead, I aim to say: “hey, so, things suck right now, shit happens, whatever, but you shouldn’t give up.  Pick yourself up, brush it off, and try again.  Hold out for next time.  And the time after that.  And the time after that.”

Or, perhaps, in this trying era, Maya Angelou put it best: “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated.”

There’s a common saying that things are always darkest before the dawn–so maybe my stories aren’t about the dawn.  Maybe my stories are about the darkness getting darker and the characters having the strength to hope that the dawn breaks soon.  To have the strength to use gas-station bics and old, beaten matchbooks to make their own dawn because they don’t want to wait anymore.

And sometimes the darkness takes one of them, and all the others go out and gather sticks and build a pyre and set it ablaze and that inferno is its own dawn, for a while.

Good guys don’t always win, but they always keep trying.

That’s the narrative I’m selling.

Writing Prompt!

If you feel like doing some writing today, try this one out: write at least one (1) page where the story begins with the character failing.  Bonus points if the character fails because of their own stupid mistakes.  After the failure is complete, what happens next?

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Good News, Bad News.

Good news and bad news.  An update from the cave.  The hermit shambles forth from the dark mouth, a decree on his chapped lips.

(That’s me, by the way.)

Let’s start with the bad news: it seems unlikely that my work with The New American Apocalypse will continue, at least not for a long time (by which point it will be no longer topical and probably forgotten by its readers).  I know, I know–we were all looking forward to the final battle between our brainburnt narrator and the squirming tentacles of fascist, greed-driven evil, but I’ve fallen several entries behind and have taken on too many projects to spend much time catching up…and certainly not before voting day.

Perhaps I’ll resurrect the story and finish it soon, maybe 2 years from now, maybe in the form of a smaller, less-improvised, and even more grotesque little chap-book.  Who knows?  I don’t.  And even if I did, I would carry the idea in secret, hidden beneath the tattered folds of my yellow cloak.

On to the good news!

The good news: the reason The New American Apocalypse has been on the back-burner for so long, and the forces behind my decision to suspend all work on it (at least for some time) is because I’m juggling too many other, larger projects.  I am plodding along, slowly but surely, on a sequel to No Grave.  It’s unlikely to see release before mid-2017, but it’s getting done.  The Brownstone crew and the sundry other characters wrapped up in this world of shadows, secrets, and scares will visit upon you again!  Fear not…or, yeah, probably fear a little.

The second piece of news: I am also plodding forth in my dealings with the large (and largely-abandoned) town of Oceanrest, Maine.  By now, some of you might’ve noticed a story about a black house in the woods, or about a strange CD linked to hallucinatory effects, or about a man who wakes up every morning haunted by the ghosts of the future.  Or maybe you’ve just heard about Oceanrest from a mysterious diary page found in a rotting pile of debris.  In any case, the setting is going places.  I’ve hinted at something for a while and, to excuse my seeming abandonment of my improvisational blog project, perhaps it is time I came clean and told you: there are talks of a novel.  I’ve written it, three full from-scratch drafts and months in revisions and rewrites, working happily with editorial staff from various interested parties.  I don’t want to give away too much, in case we get caught in development/contractual hell, but there may be copies available in bookstores in the foreseeable future (assuming we do not all drown in hellfire or nuclear radiation first).  Expect to see more Oceanrest short stories in e-zines, magazines, and on my blog, and (hopefully) you’ll be able to get a larger look at the town and its denizens in the not-too-distant future.

The third piece of news: I am writing a podcast.  As these things often are, the podcast is being created on a tightwire budget above a vast crevasse of darkness, but the people in charge are people I’ve worked with on other projects and who have a history of creating quality goods despite (or because of) budgetary limitations.  They have a strong track record and I trust them.  These words will reach your ears, sooner or later, through the lips of talented voice actors.  Of course, I’ve never written a podcast before–and this is why, in the past four months, I have gone from 1 podcast subscription with 40 “heard” episodes, to 15 podcast subscriptions with 266 “heard” episodes.  I’ve been learning the ropes, writing and revising episodes, etc… and this has, in addition to the above-mentioned news, taken time.

So, between an upcoming Furies book, a possible Oceanrest book (and more Oceanrest stories in general), and a podcast…my plate is a bit full.  And so we bid (hopefully brief) adieu to our New American Apocalypse and its tentacular evils in order to march more steadily forward.

With great love and hope and utter sky-rending terror,

Spencer

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Out of the Dark: An Update.

Some of you have recently messaged me to ask “where the hell is the American Apocalypse?”

It’s still lurking in the darkness, worry not.  Its destiny will manifest, soon.  Due to its improvisational nature, a call-and-response to the madness of our national climate, its become somewhat run-away and I’ve had to resort to a degree of planning, a method of crafting its future to ensure it drives the deepest possible knife.  This has required a small break, but it will be back in action very soon, limping and squirming its way forward.

I also have other news that I hope will buy me pardon for my silence.

Piece of news #1: that Oceanrest project I mentioned so long ago has gained its landlegs.  Several of them.  I consider it still fairly Top Secret, and so won’t go too much into detail, but I’ve found myself in a position where the world and stories of Oceanrest need my focus.  Expect to see some more Oceanrest flash fiction and Oceanrest news in the near future.  I don’t want to jinx myself so I won’t say more.  If you happen to have an old chicken on its last legs, its eyes half-blind with cataracts, well, feel free to sacrifice it in my name.  If your chicken is healthy, however, consider giving it a name.  “Henry,” for instance.

Piece of news #2: I’ve started work on No Peace.  Oh, yes, I should clarify– No Peace is the third book of The Furies series, a sequel to No Grave.  I’ve only just now started scrawling the project in earnest, so release isn’t on the horizon, but between opening No Peace and my work on the Oceanrest project, my writing time isn’t as vast as it used to be.

Piece of news #3: I’ve taken to writing more non-fiction.  This isn’t of any particular note, really, although I now have some biased political screeds on http://perspectyve.com — but my sudden interest in essays and op-eds has proven distracting.  Does anyone really care about my thoughts on horror and dark fiction?  I doubt it.  Yet, I am compelled to write them down.  Maybe one day I’ll throw them on the blog, here, but for now I think it’s best if I keep my damned opinions to myself.

Piece of news #4: website re-design.  Several of the plugins and the previous theme I’d been using on this site have caused problems and site downages, preventing my precious words from finding their homes in your eager skulls.  Because I’m a narcissistic writer-type, I find this to be unacceptable.  So the site is undergoing the slow process of revision and “rewrite.”  As I hobble forth on this endeavor, there may be issues, though hopefully no site downages anymore.  This also takes time away from American Apocalypse.

But worry not, squidlings.  With the beginnings of a plan in hand, I’ve already started drafting the next segment and will have it online as soon as all these other horrors allow.

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Short Story Release; No Grave Available!

“He woke up, again, to the same alarm as always: static hiss of radio underscoring the accentless newsman as he said, ‘…he went to the gun locker, opened it, and took out the rifle.’ He slapped the radio off before he heard the rest of the story and pushed himself up out of bed. Sarah shifted on the mattress next to him, an airy sigh slipping from her lips as she curled up in the covers. She never heard the newsman, no matter how many times he said the exact same thing. They’d had a fight about it, once. She always heard a rock song, from Oceanrest Rock & Blues Radio. The same song, every time…something by Nine Inch Nails, but he couldn’t remember the title. He only ever heard the news report, the same news report, over and over again.”

So begins “A Man Wakes Up Any Morning,” a short story I wrote published in Sanitarium Magazine, Issue #38.  Sanitarium is a great horror mag–I’ve been a subscriber for quite some time and I am thrilled to be part of it, now.  I highly recommend picking up a copy, if you can.

The ebook is available on Amazon.com US, Amazon UK,  Apple News Stand, and Google Play Store, with PDF, EPUB, and other digital editions available through the Issue Release Page.

It’s also available in the flesh (or paper, as it were) on Amazon.com.

And while we’re here, I’d like to bump No Grave for the millionth time.  It’s the sequel to my first release, No Reflection, and a far superior book in my utterly biased and completely un-humble opinion.

No Grave is available in digital format at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.

No Grave is also available in the gruesome, gruesome flesh at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Thanks for the continued support.  Enjoy the grim, terrible experience and we’ll talk again very, very soon.

Sooner than you think, dear readers.

Sooner, maybe even, than you would like…

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Buy No Grave Today!

NoGraveCoverAs some (all?) of you know, No Grave is finally available for purchase as eBook and paperback!  A very exciting time!

It’s available in paperback through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble right now!

It’s also available in eBook, for those who prefer your literature be electronic (and/or you just really want it RIGHT NOW! which I understand and am deeply grateful for) — you can pickup a digital copy of the book at Smashwords, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Check it out, today!  If you live in the Rochester or NYC areas, I’ll even sign it for you!  I promise not to write anything crude!

I’ve also started work on a blog project, which I’ve very very very loosely outlined.  You can find the first entry here and the second one here.  I’m trying to release an update every week or two, to keep you all entertained while I work on the next book in The Furies series (…as well as a couple other projects I shan’t announce, yet).

Thanks for stopping in.

See you soon, readers.

See you…very soon.

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No Grave: Monster in the Lamplight

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out…THIS WEEKEND!!

So are we ready for another sneak peek?

Today we’re going to take another look at Cyrus’ story, this time from a much later excerpt.  I don’t want to give away anything you’ll wind up reading, later, but I’ll say that things haven’t been going exceedingly well for him…

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Here we go:

 

In the backseat of the cab, Cyrus touched the necklace Kenya had given him.  It still felt warm, the bones with that long sweeping symbol cut in them like dying coals.  He’d never felt the spell go off with such power, before.  It was amazing what someone could do with the proper tools.  He released the warm necklace and pulled his backpack off.  He unzipped it and found his laptop smashed inside.  The fight hadn’t been kind to it.

“Son of a bitch…”

The cab driver glanced at the rearview mirror.  “Something wrong?”

“No,” Cyrus answered, “just had a fall, broke my laptop.”

“Rough.  Those don’t come cheap.”

“Tell me about it,” he zipped the backpack shut and slipped it back on.  Even with Kenya footing the bill for the travel and lodging, it had been an expensive trip.  He was already down a hundred bucks cash, a cellphone, and a laptop.  His cheek throbbed and his body ached.

Stay focused, the words crossed his mind in Kenya’s voice, as if she were scolding him from hundreds of miles away.

He leaned his forehead against the cool window and watched the streets roll by.  The closer they got to ‘downtown,’ whatever that meant in Boston, the more people he saw.  It wasn’t the same volume of late-night business he got in New York on a Thursday, but it was enough of a crowd to give him comfort.

Until he saw the thing in the hoodie staring at him from under a streetlight.

It wasn’t human, though it looked like one.  It had the requisite fingers, toes, nose, eyes, mouth…but its skin was the color of old ashes, and its eyes were jaundiced and bloodshot.  Its nails were clawlike, too long and too sharp to belong on its hands.  Its horrible eyes met his, and Its head turned as the cab moved forward.

Cyrus tore his eyes away from the figure and sank down in his seat.  He needed a weapon.  The men in the bar were bad enough, mundane figures tracking him on foot or through his phone, but that thing looked like Darkplace.  That thing was a monster.  He felt himself shaking and wrapped his arms around his shoulders.  What the hell is going on?—it didn’t make any sense.  It was impossible that this many people were all hunting the same Chosen, wasn’t it?  How powerful is Gillian, anyway?

“This good?” the cabbie asked.

Cyrus shook his head, “Maybe another few blocks.”

“Sure, pal.  Sure.”

Cyrus cleared his throat.  “You know where a payphone is?”

The cabbie snorted.  “Can’t say I do.  Haven’t used in one about ten years.”

“Yeah.  Me neither.  Just lost my phone.”

“Laptop and a phone?  Kidding me?”

“Nope.  Been a really shitty week.”

“So up here, then?” the cabbie pointed to a crowded bar on the corner, a mass of smokers and cellphone talkers standing outside.  Cyrus shook his head.  I need open space.  I need to see it coming.  He knew he couldn’t hide from a Darkplace monster.  He’d been trying for almost a decade.

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No Grave: Nicole’s Assignment

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out in a few weeks.

Today’s sneak peek goes back to Nicole, the narrator of No Reflection.  She’s a huge part of No Grave, definitely the lead narrator, and has a lot to juggle.  Living an overcrowded life, shut in by a sunset curfew, and struggling to stay ahead of an increasingly dangerous game, Nicole’s journey through No Grave is fraught with danger, confusion, and a surreal descent into strange visions and dreamscapes.

Straight off the bat of No Grave, Nicole is pulled back into the supernatural swing of things, helping her brownstone crew with a murder investigation, but, of course, her life could never be so simple as just that…

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Sneak peek:

 

Goodwin’s phone buzzed, and he peeked at the screen for a second, his demeanor dropping at the sight.  “Well, it seems like I won’t be staying very long, so let’s move on to business, shall we?”

“Let’s.”

He reached down into his leather bag and withdrew a thin folder, sliding it across the table.  “Have you ever heard of a band called The Four Horsemen?  They released two albums, 2002 and 2004, and an unplugged album in 2005.”

“I haven’t heard of them,” Nicole shrugged.

“Ah, well, then…the information is in the folder, but I’ll give you a quick rundown on the basics.  Formed in January of 2002 with their first album release the same year…under the MCA entertainment wing,” he said this last part as though giving her a stern warning, and continued after a beat, “second album in 2004, and a rather messy split in the summer of 2006.  It was a group comprised of four women, if you’ll take a look at the pictures there.”

Nicole flipped through several pages in the folder and arrived at a series of photographs.  There was a photograph of a tall, curvaceous woman with a shock of black hair spilling down to her shoulder blades.  Her pale arms were covered in tattoos, starting at her collarbone, running down both arms, and wreathing her fingers.  The next photo was of a slight, slender woman with shaggy blond hair that arched behind her down to her waist.  Her eyes were narrow, almond-shaped, and her skin reminded Nicole of the bark of a tanned tree.  Nicole thought she’d seen the woman somewhere, before, but couldn’t place it.  She flicked past those photos and found a dozen more of two other women from different angles and in different situations: on stage, in the street, in a promo ad, and at home.  One of them was extremely angular, tall and lean, with a sharp chin, prominent cheekbones, and a jawline that seemed like it could be used as a weapon.  The other had rounded cheeks, an hourglass figure, and full, bright lips.  Crinkled strands of hair fell around her shoulders in loose waves the color of blond coffee.  Her sepia skin looked drained and washed-out, but Nicole imagined men would stare at her, anyway.  The thought made her flinch.  “Who are they?”

“The thin one is named Harley, lead guitarist in the band, and back-up vocals.  The other one is Michelle, bassist and lead lyricist,” Goodwin explained.  “They are not what you would call morning people.”

“I see.”

“Quite.  In any case, I need you to convince them to sign a contract with me,” he tapped his fingers on the edge of the table, “specifically me.  Not the firm, not MCA, just me, Charles Goodwin, Esquire.”

“Did you just refer to yourself by title?” Nicole grinned.

“It helps to remember I went to school for this,” he answered, the everpresent smile tightening on his face.  “In any case, that’s a very important part of the arrangement…because of their history with MCA’s entertainment wing, especially.”

“So you want me to, what?—not tell them what company you work for?”

“Exactly.  Don’t mention MCA to them, at all.” Goodwin folded his hands in front of him, his tone measured and even as he spoke.

“That sounds…like a lie.”

“No, no,” Goodwin rebuffed, “not at all, because they won’t be signing a contract with the company.”

“Just with you?”

“Right.  So it should only be necessary to mention me.”

Nicole’s eyes drifted from the folder in front of her to Goodwin’s face and back again.  “This is very different from the business we usually do together,” she observed, staring at Harley’s face, the hue of her deep, crimson lipstick.

“This is a very different situation from what we’re usually in.  Is that okay with you?”

Not really, she thought, but nodded, anyway, “Yeah…yeah, I can do this.”

“Great.  I’ll be in touch, then.  Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need anything.”

“I won’t be.”

Goodwin stood from the table and pulled his bag from the floor.  “Good, good,” he dug into his pocket and came out with a monogrammed money clip, slipping out a fifty dollar bill and putting it on the table.  “Lunch is on me.  Have a great one.”  He gave her a short nod and was halfway across the restaurant before she could shout a goodbye after him.

Turning back to the folder, she sank down in her seat.  She flipped through pages detailing the life of the now-defunct Four Horsemen, photographs of the principal recruits, and a small CD buried at the back.  She shook her head and closed the file.  As if the case and the line and the e-mails hadn’t been enough…

“Excuse me, miss,” the waiter’s voice snapped her back to the restaurant, “what will you be having this afternoon?”

“Sorry, sorry,” she answered, “could I just have a second to think about it?”

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No Grave: Meet Tristan

Hey, guys!  Just another friendly reminder that No Grave is coming out in a few weeks.  During the lead-up, I’ll be posting a few small segments introducing some of the new cast and helping you remember some of the lovely people you met in No Reflection.  Our second installment will introduce you to Tristan Wallace, monster slayer extraordinaire and another of our narrators.

(Remember to pre-order your digital copy today!  Available on Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, Kobo, etc…)

Now presenting…Tristan Wallace:

 

 

“A liter and a half…that’s some bold shit, mano.”

Alex adjusted his aviator shades.  The sun glinted gold off the lenses as he tilted his face toward the hospital across the street.

“Or desperate,” Tristan replied, scratching a bristling shadow of beard.  Dracs didn’t usually drain that much in one go, not off a single victim.  It was the sort of thing that got noticed, and monsters lived and died by one rule: don’t get noticed.

“A drac starving out in New York?” Alex gestured at the crowd milling over the gum-stained sidewalk.  “No way.  Place is an all-you-can-eat buffet for a smart monster.”

“Never said it was smart,” Tristan muttered.  He pointed to the bun nested on top of Alex’s head, “Speaking of which, boyo…how many times am I going to have to tell you to get a haircut before you swing by a barber’s?”

Alex’s lips parted in an off-white smirk.  “Least one more.”

“One of these days, something’s going to grab you by the hair when you’re trying to make a run for it, and that’ll be the end of that.”

Alex shrugged, leaning back against the slender column of a streetlight.  “We’ll see.”

Tristan stared at the Missing Persons posters plastered up the length of the steel pole.  A young woman’s face peered back from one of them, a girl he’d place in her late teens.  He studied the shape of her nose, the narrow bridge and pointed tip of it, and the way her eyebrows peaked like arrows toward her hairline.  Details were important.  The devil was in them, after all.  A stranger remembering the slight asymmetry of a young woman’s eye height could mean the difference between a family reunion and a funeral.

He’d had a daughter, once.

He tore his eyes away from the photograph and dug his hand into his pants’ pocket to touch the purple chip he carried with him.  It was a small token with a slate texture and a hundred microscopic ridges running along its spine.  He’d earned it at their last meeting two weeks ago.  Nine months sober.  He prayed to it, clutched in his palm like a bundled rosary, and withdrew his hand.  Alex was still staring at the hospital.  Tristan cleared his throat.  “Sam’s late.”

“He’ll be here soon.”

Tristan nodded and tried to keep his eyes away from the dozen Missing Person posters fading white on the lamp post.  He focused on the revolving hospital doors.  There’s a job to do, he reminded himself.  A monster to catch.  He put on a worn, wrinkle-chipped grin.  “What do you think Sammie’s going to set us up with, this time?”

“NYPD, bet on it.  Hell, I’ll put down ten bucks.”

Tristan shook his head, “No deal, boyo.”

“You scared?”

“No, just not stupid.”

Alex’s smirk spread into a full-faced smile.  “NYPD, definitely.”  He pulled on a silver necklace and lifted a small badge from under his shirt, “Boy’s gonna get me in trouble, one of these days.”

“If you don’t do it yourself, first,” Tristan replied.  Alex had used his resources as a legal bounty hunter more than a couple times to help them track a monster through the New York streets.  Of course, rule-breaking was par for the course for a hunter.  “Besides, Sammie’s stuff is solid.”

“Says the guy who didn’t want to recruit him.”

“He’s a good Man in Havana, sure, but the boy’s still a bloody boy.”

“Twenty-five years old.”

“Kidding me, twenty-five years old.  I was half-retired when he was shitting himself in diapers.”

“Yeah, and you’ll be glad to have him when it turns the other way around, old man.”

“Fuck you,” Tristan couldn’t help but laugh at the thought.

“Just saying.”

“And you better say a little less before I show you what kind of tricks an old dog like me’s picked up over the years.”

Alex stepped away from the lamp post with a wide grin, “Go ahead.  Maybe I can show you some new ones.”

Tristan held up a hand and nodded to a figure maneuvering through the thick downtown crowd.  Sam was so grayed out Tristan barely noticed him: he wore an unaccented beige overcoat over olive pants, a plain gray shirt, and featureless sneakers—clothing picked out to blend in, manufactured to vanish.  His bright blond hair was trimmed short, but not military-style, with bowl-cut bangs an inch above his eyebrows and nothing hanging loose around his ears.  He was a bit pale, ghost-like except for the fading remnants of a country tan, but there was plenty of pale to go around in the Financial District.  Tristan smiled.  “At least the boy listens when I tell him something.”

“Yeah, and you still picked him out.”

“I got training for that.”

Tristan could hear Alex’s eyes roll behind the golden sheen of his shades.  “Whatever you say, mano.”

Sam pulled out a pair of leather-bound ID cards as he came up to them, “NYPD detectives.  We’re just doing a routine follow-up interview with the victim…crossing, dotting, the usual type stuff.  Tristan, you’re going in as Detective O’Malley.  Alex, you’ll be Detective Vasquez.”

“Ten bucks,” Alex held out his hand.

“I didn’t take the bet, boyo.”

“Chicken.”

Tristan took the leather-bound bifold from Sam, “And who are you?”

“Be going in as Detective Howard.”

“Howard, Vasquez, O’Malley…sounds a bit memorable.”

“Well…” Sam took a deep breath, the kind people take when they know they’ve screwed up.  “What’s a really common Irish name?”

“Brennan?  O’Brien?”

“So maybe…Detective Brennan and, uh, Detective Ramirez?”

“I get this feeling I’m being typecast,” Alex said.

Tristan snorted, “That’s half the point.  Quick and forgettable.”

“The names’ll have to wait ‘till next time, anyway,” Sam fumbled his own bifold open and showed them the NYPD emblem and ID badge inside.  “I already made everything up under O’Malley and Vasquez, even got it so the badge numbers call up records if someone digs into them.”

“Really?” Alex asked.

“Now, they won’t hold up to a real investigation, but as long as no one starts making phone calls, we should be fine.”

Tristan nodded.  “Then let’s not waste any more daylight.”

They split up, each one weaving away from the others through the lunch hour street traffic.  It was part of their approach ritual.  The monster’s axiom wasn’t just for monsters, after all.  A good hunter was an invisible hand.  A good hunter left a series of vague eyewitness accounts and disconnected paper trails in the wake of a downed beast.  A dead werewolf didn’t look much different from a dead human, after all, and nobody did the world much good behind the coal-colored bars of a prison cell.

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