Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, May 29, 2015

Police and Thieves

A Conversation

Al:  People like Ray Rice and Tom Brady are disgracing the sport of football. 
Bill:  You obviously hate football.
A:  Huh?  I love football.  I watch twelve games a week, I play in six fantasy leagues, and I bet the kids' college funds on the game.  Football is my life.
B:  If football is your life, how can you say you don't like Rice and Brady?  They're football players.
A:  Brady is a cheater and Rice beats his wife.
B:  Yes, but Rice and Brady are football players.  If you don't support them, you obviously hate football.
A:  Actually, that's horseshit.  They're a disgrace to their uniforms and they're supposed to be role models to little kids.  Their bad behavior is degrading the entire sport.
B:  Do you know how hard it is to get out there every week and let huge men tackle you?  You bust your ass training, then every Sunday, like clockwork, you get out there and you get your ass handed to you.  That's hard work.  As long as they're doing that, who cares if they're behaving badly on or off the field?

An Analysis

You will never in a million, billion years hear two sports fans have this conversation.  Because it's insane.  Al doesn't like Tom Brady because he cheats by deflating footballs and he doesn't like Ray Rice because he beats his wife during his off time. 

There are conversations which could be had about these matters.  Does it matter what a football player does in his off time?  Does a person we encourage to be aggressive and get head injuries get a little leeway when he gets angry and aggressive off the field?  Is deflating a ball really that big of a factor in winning a game?  Is lying about knowing about the deflated balls worse than deflating the balls in the first place?

There are a fuckton of issues which could be discussed, and debated with various levels of merit. But Bill immediately derails the conversation by saying if you don't support every football player, you must hate football. This totally wouldn't fly between two sports fans. But almost this identical conversation has been taking place in our country's politics recently. And I'd venture to say that, for good or for ill, Americans are much more passionate about their sports than about their elections. So why do we get away with this?

A Metaphor (Obviously)

Obviously I'm talking about the false dichotomy of the Black Lives Matter/Cops Lives Matter talking heads. On the left we have people talking about crooked cops: cops who shoot people in the back and harass and generally abuse people for racial reasons. Which is stuff that police are not supposed to do.

The left says, "These bad cops disgrace all cops. Cops should be role models, their behavior should be impeccable. They should be serving and protecting."

The right says, "If you don't support bad cops, you hate law and order."

It's insane. It's derailing. It's identical, if not in the particulars, to the crazy sports metaphor I made above. The entire point is there is no law and order when there is corruption in the police. And then out trots the argument, "Well, even a crooked cop has thrown himself into the line of fire and puts himself in danger to protect us every day, so we should cut him some slack."

A Movie Quote

In the criminally unappreciated 1998 movie "Fallen," Denzel Washington plays John Hobbes, an honest cop in a corrupt police department. Another cop asks Hobbes how they can trust him not to turn them in if he doesn't take "cream" (graft) when the rest of them do. Which leads to this memorable exchange:

Hobbes: You take any cop on the force, cream or no, ninety-nine percent of the time they're doing their job, aren't they?

Jones: Ninety-nine five.

Hobbes: Point five. So he or she, cream or no, is doing more good out there every day than any lawyer or stockbroker or president of the United States can ever do in their lifetime. Cops are the chosen people.

A Final Thought

I generally try to avoid hot-button issues on my blog, as my readers know.  I guess I've been doing it more and more lately, but it's less the issues that bother me as the way we talk about them.  If we were willing to sit down and have an earnest conversation about institutional racism and police corruption in this country, that would be nice.  Everyone I know who's ever been to Afghanistan has talked about "functional corruption" - the level at which corruption is understood to exist, but an agency still more-or-less completes its appointed task.  Understanding that you may have to, say, bribe a policeman to get a crime solved is better than, say, a police force that acts as a factional militia.

But we're not having that conversation, are we?  We're having people make essentially the Nixon argument: "When cops do it it's not illegal."  We're talking at cross-purposes.  The left wants to talk about tackling police corruption, and the right just wants to pretend it doesn't exist.  They want to shut that conversation down because it would mean slaughtering some of their sacred cows and admitting that institutionalized racism might actually be a thing and maybe their bootstrap plan for poor Americans is not quite so cut-and-dried.

I don't know how things really used to be in the old days.  I know bullshit is as old as politics, and the ancient Romans were the ones who came up with bread and circuses, although probably the cavemen had some similar concept like mammoth meat and cave paintings.  So I may be pining for a democratic ideal that never really existed, but I feel like even in my lifetime there was a time when we approached elections based on which side had the better solution to a problem.  Now it feels like we approach elections based on which side can better prove that a problem exists or not.

That shit doesn't bode well for the future.  Of course, given my 'druthers, I'd rather that our society had no problems.  So there's always going to be a natural inclination to pretend problems don't exist, but that just gives them space to grow to insurmountable proportions.  You may think police corruption isn't a problem now, because it doesn't affect you.  But what are you going to do when the corruption runs so deep even you can't ignore it?  Wish you could've gone back in time?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Q" is for "Quit It"

Let's just admit it: authors are annoying.  Hell, I'm probably annoying you right now.  (It's like I'm psychic or something, right?)

Which is not to say authors are not also sometimes criminally malfeasant.  That also happens, as I outlined here at some length.  But I don't want to get into the truly dark and tragic side of this industry with this post (and trust, me, there is some dark, dark shit out there.)  This is just some shit that authors need to knock the fuck off.

Posting Excerpts from their Work-In-Progress

Seriously, who is this for?  Listen, this is coming from a person who has felt the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, and the creamy middles of manuscript composition: nobody cares.  I get it, I get it, you found the mot juste, you just crafted a paragraph that would make Hemingway and Faulkner silently weep in envy.  But outside of the context of the other 100,000-odd words of that novel you're putting together, your perfect little jewel of an excerpt is about as interesting as a two second clip from "The Godfather."  If your middle initials aren't "R.R." and people aren't waiting on pins and needles for your long-overdue sequel, this is just masturbation.

Equivalent annoying real person behavior:  Posting a photo of your breakfast on Instagram.

Defending the Importance of Grammar Rules

Here's another one that's coming from a place of love.  Look, I'm a journeyman at this craft, too.  I have strong opinions about the Oxford comma, double-spacing sentences, and the proper time to use a semicolon*.  I've even engaged in debates over the same, both on this blog and in (check out this adjective here, it's gonna be a good one) appropriate venues.  But that meme you posted about how the world is absolutely going to hell because someone used a grocers' apostrophe once?  Yeah, nobody cares.  You know what the people who saw that sign advertising "cantaloupe's" did?  They managed to get through their day, exactly as cantaloupe-free or cantaloupe-filled as they desired.  Lives have very rarely been lost due to grammatical errors (the Battle of Balaclava being a notable exception) and communication will continue in spite of your grave misgiving about textspeak.

Equivalent annoying real person behavior:  That insurance salesman at a party who just can't stop talking about how fascinating insurance regulations are.

*never; well, mostly never

Posting Listicles on Their Blogs

It's like, yeah, we get it, you read Cracked once.  Golf clap for you, trailblazer.

Equivalent annoying real person behavior:  Pretending you saw a movie you only really read stuff online about.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Happy Memorial Day!

I hope you have a great time today!  Today is a day to spend time with friends and family, maybe at a barbecue, maybe at a beach.  Maybe if you're in the Baltimore area, you'll come by the Hunt Valley Inn to see me at Balticon.

Naturally, we should all take at least a moment today to remember what the holiday is about.  Today is a day to memorialize our hallowed war dead, from the Revolution through today.  I've never thought it degraded the memory of the sainted dead that we spend some time with our families on the holiday in their honor.  In fact, I think it's probably what they would want us to do, to enjoy the freedoms and the peace and the happy, contented lives which they fought to preserve.

Some friends asked me today whether it's appropriate to thank a veteran on Memorial Day, being as this is a day specifically slotted to remember the lost.  I guess everyone has differing opinions on this, and some people would say if you're not spending the day at Arlington or another military cemetery you're doing it wrong.  Personally, I think there's never a bad day to thank a living veteran or to remember a dead one.  And I don't think there's a single veteran, dead or alive, who would approve of people fighting over how to honor them.

So honor them with a hot dog.  Honor them with a song.  Honor them with another silly showing of "The Dirty Dozen" on AMC.  Honor them with fireworks.  Honor them with a car sale.  It doesn't mater.  To each his own.  Be happy.  And frolic.  And always know that there were a few, a happy few, a band of brothers and sisters who gave the last full measure to ensure that you could.  And every day someone signs on the dotted line, with the same consideration in his or her mind.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Don Draper vs. Tony Soprano: The Pacquiao-Mayweather Fight of Television


(SPOILER ALERT.  Because obvi-fucking-ously.)

For the better part of a decade now in watching the series finale (or, more accurately, the final scene) of The Sopranos, audiences have asked, "Does Tony live or die?"

There are people who will swear that the cinematography of the scene demands that Tony died.  Yeah, okay.  I doubt that the creator's intention in filming his last scene was to make every viewer take a film course to understand it.  Besides, that's a meta-analysis.  The only reason to suppose that Tony died is because it was the last scene of the last episode.  Ask yourself: if this had been the ending to an average episode of The Sopranos, would we still be convinced Tony had died at the end?  And so we stare deeply into it, demanding that the Rorschach test reflects back what we already think we know.

Except, as long as we're doing a meta-analysis, up until James Gandolfini's untimely death there had been talk of a Sopranos movie.  Which would almost certainly mean that retroactively the last scene just depicted an average, maybe even halcyon dinner with the family.  Now that Gandolfini has died, we can't go back and say, "Well, that proves Tony Soprano died because now there can be no sequel featuring him."

The problem is, we've been asking the wrong question.  Eight years of silence from the creator on the subject should have taught us this.  Instead of asking "Does Tony live or die?" we should be asking "Does it matter whether Tony lives or dies?"

Because, no, of course it doesn't.  Whether Tony is shot in that actual scene - and, yes, of course, it's set up to imply that's a possibility - doesn't change the fact that he lives under the eternal cloud of his own mortality.  We all do, after all.  Perhaps an amoral mob boss more than the average accountant or mechanic, but still.  Tonight could be my last dinner with my family if I just so happen to get hit by a car tomorrow.  So the only thing to do is to continue on, cling to what we have for support, knowing that someday we'll bite it, but until then we can't stop believing that we won't.

In looking at the Mad Men finale I wonder if we're looking at another Sopranos ending, writ small.  Don smiles and then...the most famous Coke commercial of all time.  Maybe the most famous commercial of all time period.  I dunno.  Is this like the Holy Grail of advertising?  Certainly, it's something the show's been teasing since the beginning, that Don would create something iconic (and it would probably be Coke.)

So Don smiles and...

a)  It's a smile of contentment.  He's finally found peace with being Dick Whitman.  Peggy, his protege, creates the Coke commercial.

b)  It's a shit-eating grin.  The sharkish Don Draper never really died.  He just sees all the people seeking truth and emotion around him as a crass thing that can be exploited to sell sugar water.

It's sort of like The Sopranos all over again.  You could go either way.  There will be a segment of the population that holds forth the girl with ribbons in her hair from the commercial - almost identical to the one working the lobby at the California retreat - is proof positive that Don returned from his latest walkabout with a brilliant new advertising scheme.

But then again...

Don hugged a guy.  A total stranger.  Or should I say, Dick hugged a guy.  This season has been all about Dick Whitman exorcising Don Draper.  "Don Draper" was not just amoral like Tony Soprano.  He was something closer to utterly incapable of emotion.  He was what I guess we'd call a sociopath, but instead of becoming a serial killer he became an ad man.

Almost all of "Don's" behavior came from a sense of obligation, or a desperate desire to feel something, anything.  Happy people don't drink and smoke like that.  Content people don't cheat on their wives with everything on two legs.  Loving people don't abandon their families at every conceivable opportunity to work.  And dedicated people don't make a mockery of their work, screwing over everyone who works hard and sleazing by on their charm and good looks.

I'm not certain "Don Draper" ever felt anything.  The only time I recall seeing him show genuine warmth or compassion was when he was free to be Dick Whitman, with Anna and her niece Stephanie.

I'm sure a superfan could pick all this apart.  I imagine someone could point out something that would explode all my theories.  (Of course, that's part of the fun of the internet, so feel free to have at it in the comments.)  Don Draper is a complex, baffling, fascinating, sexy, horrible, miraculous character.  He's at the center of what's considered the Golden Age of Television.  Of course there's no way to boil him down to a few sentences on an out-of-the-way blog.

But let's say the former explanation is right.  Let's say this character's story arc is that he stole another man's identity because he thought it would be like stealing the keys to the country club.  (Or a car.  Cars are very symbolic.  Pete can't drive one.  Don gives his up at the end.  The company is always after one.  But I digress.)  But what he thought was a rich man's suit turned out to be a suit of armor, keeping out the world, that eventually developed into a wall comparable only to Pink Floyd's.

Then this man, Dick or Don or whatever, realizes that every time he knocks a brick out of the wall he feels a little less suffocated.  He comes clean to Anna, and eventually to Betty, and finally to his children, but that's not enough.  He spends the final season tearing down the wall.  He gives up everything that made him Don: his company, his position, his family, his home town, his money ($1 million to Meghan and $2 million in severance to McCann), then finally that symbolic car, and ultimately that totemic ring of Anna's (his first and last ill-gotten gain from a stolen life.)

He is even, in a sense, absolved of his crime in the penultimate episode.  Look at the almost Catholic way he confesses (to the veterans), pays a penance (being beaten), and then goes forth and sins no more (gives his car to the kid.)  If this is the character arc of this person, and Dick is finally free, and he knows it because he is finally capable of feeling human emotion again, and cries at this sad little stranger's story and hugs him, then the entire show, the entire series is undercut by the idea that he would go back to Madison Avenue.

Now I just spent a few sentences arguing why Don must have gone back to advertising (the seemingly stronger claim), and what feels like a book arguing why it couldn't possibly have been true (the seemingly weaker claim.)  This may be the great debate of Mad Men's finale, the same way whether Tony died was the great debate of The Sopranos'.  But then, maybe The Sopranos can be a blueprint for us again in "settling" this debate.

The thing is...there is no debate.  There's only what we were shown on the screen.  Not "Did Don go back or not?" but "Does it matter whether Don went back or not?"  We're shown Don...or maybe Dick...finally giving in and doing yoga, and then he smiles about...something.  And then we're shown an iconic Coke commercial.  And...

That's the series.  In a nutshell.  Advertising is a falsehood.  It's a total fabrication by people who want to sell you soda and candy and crap you don't need.  But it's also about something real.  It's about capturing the Zeitgeist, or it doesn't work.  Commercials that are on TV today are surreal and meta, and speak to Millennials' refusal to trust that what "the man" presents to them as real.  That's a "real" feeling that commercials started reflecting well before television and movies and other media were, because commercials have to be deft.  They have to sell you something or they don't work.  So they have to be both patently false and somehow ring true.

That's what Mad Men's about.  The truth in the falseness.  The Coke ad of 1971 captured the attention of the people of 1971, just like "Where's the Beef?" would in the '80's and "Da da da" would in the '90s, and Flo the wacky insurance lady does today.  Commercials are simultaneously deep and shallow, and they're made by people who are simultaneously deep and shallow.  Even this blogpost is simultaneously deep and shallow.  It doesn't really matter whether Don/Dick went back to New York, because as he pointed out to Peggy, the entire advertising industry didn't collapse with his departure.  Commercials would still get made.  And this brilliant series was the story of a few of them, and the people that made them, and maybe you had a good time watching it, and, hell, if you want to get really meta, maybe you bought some of the crap that was advertised while you were watching it.

And...fade to black.

***UPDATE:  Apparently, Matthew Weiner came out this week to explicitly state that Don wrote the ad, making this entire post essentially horseshit, one of the eternal dangers of scheduling posts ahead of time.  Yay, word of God.***

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"P" is for "Primetime"

Have you had a few days?  Have you had time to let it settle down?  If not to understand it, at least to accept it?  Maybe you've given it a rewatch to see if it's better with expectations lowered down to reality?

Television characters occupy a unique spot in the pantheon of our subconscious.  All fictional characters occupy a strange place, in that they're not real, and yet they raise emotions in us, they make us care about events that never took place and people who never existed.  They allow us to project ourselves into strange situations, and unlike real people we can never disappoint them.

Television, though, is a unique medium.  A character in a movie is someone we may idealize, but ultimately they'll never be more than a few hundred lines, a few hours of running time, and though their feats may be great, worldchanging even, their scope is limited.  A television show, though, comes to us every week, for most of the year, and sometimes for a great many years. 

In the sense that I have a "relationship" - one-sided though it may be, and ethereal though it may be - with Homer Simpson, I have had that relationship with him for twice as long as I've been married to my wife.  Homer has been a part of my life - albeit, only for a half hour once a week - since I was seven.  I've watched The Simpsons through every era of my life, when I was in joy, when I was in pain, and watched them go through their joys and pains.  I feel like Homer is my friend.

But he's not.  He never can be.  He doesn't exist.  As much as I can sympathize and empathize with him, he'll never be able to return the favor.  We'll never have a conversation, he'll never offer me advice, except obliquely in his conversations with others.  (In the case of Homer, of course, that's probably not such a bad thing...)  I'll never be able to offer him comfort or even to buy him a beer.

I think what separates television as a medium from film and writing, if I were to boil it down to a word, is anticipation.  Yes, there's anticipation in waiting for a movie to come out, but once it's out it's out, and you can own it and watch it any time.  A novel you can anticipate the ending of the story, but the only limitation is how fast you can read.

With TV, though, I have to wait seven days, to the dot, to find out what happens next.  Sometimes longer.  Sometimes two weeks when there's a holiday, sometimes months when there's a cliffhanger season finale.  In the micro sense, there's the anticipation of a three- or six-act story broken up by minutes of commercial.  A masterful television show uses commercial breaks to raise the stakes and raise anticipation so that you're dying to know what happens next.  And then, in the macro sense, it makes you want to tune in next week.  And then, in the even more macro sense, it makes you want to tune in next season.

Television is about anticipation.  Yes, I've only shared 90 actual hours with Don Draper and crew.  But I've done it over the past seven years.  And how much of that time have I spent dying to know what happens next?  That setup means that television characters live in your consciousness for much longer than any other character.  A movie character is there for two hours.  A novel character might be there for longer.  But a television character can begin to feel like an old friend.  As I mentioned above, I've had "relationships" with TV characters that have lasted longer than friendships.

You know what a background app is in your phone or your computer?  It's something that's constantly running, even if you don't notice it or think about it, like, say, anti-virus.  A good television show is like a background app.  No, you're not constantly consciously considering it, but it's always there in your subconscious, simmering.

This week we said goodbye to an old friend.  Since this post has gone on a bit longer than I thought it would, I think I'll wait until Friday to get into the trials and tribulations of the Sterling-Cooper crew.  And just like that, I leave you in desperate antici...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Perchance Some Poetry Before a Fortnight?

Ah, poetry.  You may not believe this, but I was actually quite the poet in my youth.  I mean, I was no Michael Meyerhofer, but there was some talent there.  I rather enjoyed reading, poetry, too.
When one of my publishing sisters (publishters) Kelly Stone Gamble put out feelers asking for authors to recite their favorite poems, shorts, and plays, how could I resist?  The purpose is to give her English students something concrete to hold on to, something more solid than words in a book.
Teachers, feel free to use this in your classroom.  If that seems like something you would want to do for some reason.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Time I Received "The Call"

Here's a wacky story I haven't thought about in years, but when literary agent Janet Reid brought up "The Call" on her blog on Tuesday, it reminded me of it.  Apparently my story was so cringeworthy it made it into Janet's weekly round-up.

"The Call," you see, is an agent's call to offer representation.  Agents are very, very insistent about aspiring authors not calling them because, of course, they're business people and who wants to do nothing but deal with a bunch of nutters on the phone all day?  So all traffic between an agent and an author is normally done by e-mail.  But then when the time comes to consider offering representation, theoretically that happens in a single phone call, aka "The Call."

If you read Janet's Tuesday post she more or less debunks that myth.  And, honestly, the people I know who've gotten agents didn't have it all happen in one miraculous phone call.  Still, though, an agent calling you is a BFD no matter what.  Which is all prologue for this story I'm about to tell.  I can't recall if I've told it before on the blog, but I couldn't find it after a cursory review of my history, so I think not.  Anyway, enjoy.

I once got a call from an agent. It was 7:00 pm on a Tuesday. My wife was working late so I was alone. It was a little late to get calls, and I don't get many calls in general anyway. I squinted at the phone, not recognizing the number, but, okay, I generally answer even if it's a telemarketer, just to make sure it's not something important.

"Hello, is this Steve?"

I was a little bit groggy. It had been a long day.


"Hi, this is Agent X."

I sat bolt upright on the couch.

"Yes, hello!"

"Agent X with Agency Y."

"Yes, yes, I know who you are."

"Well, you sent me a query a little while ago."

"Yes, I remember!"

"Well, I just wanted to call to let you know that you forgot to put your email address on the submission form. So I couldn't e-mail you back. But we're passing."

"Oh...okay...thanks for calling."

"Okay, take care, Steve."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"O" is for "Origins"

Here's something that might be interesting.  I don't know.  It might and it mightn't.  But AT HELL'S GATES is a collaborative, all-volunteer enterprise, and so sometimes I find myself doing weird random chores for the good of the series.  I actually wrote the back cover copy for the second volume, ORIGINS OF EVIL, which is probably something that you don't normally wonder about.  ("Gee, I wonder who wrote this...")

Back cover copy is sometimes called a "blurb" (which it's not) and sometimes a "synopsis" (which it's also not) so for simplicity's sake I always just call it "back cover copy" or "jacket copy."  (In case you're wondering, in the literary world a "blurb" is the attaboy quote from another author usually stamped on the front of a book, and a "synopsis" is a minimum of one page complete summary of the book, including all spoilers and the ending, used for editorial and purchasing purposes.)

So I thought it might be interesting to look at my thoughts about writing the jacket copy for AHGII.  The text is in green and annotated with my thoughts in white.  Enjoy!  Or don't.  I don't really give a shit.

Welcome back to Hell’s Gates! I originally wrote "Welcome back to AT HELL'S GATES" which Shana, the curator, rightly changed. I meant welcome back to the series, but in the final version it's less of a grammatical nightmare.   The palpable sense of dread may seem familiar, but this time things are a bit…different. Fresher. Newer. As though just recently born… This was my attempt to be tantalizing.

See that squealing baby over there? He could grow up to be a lifesaving doctor (or perhaps the antichrist.) What about that scientist burning the midnight oil? He could be working on a bug zapper (or a doomsday device.) Did you catch that comet out of the corner of your eye? It might bring good luck (or an apocalyptic plague.)  I decided with this paragraph to establish a pattern and repeat it three times, three supposedly being the perfect number for examples. The first one was just a generic idea that I had, and the other two were specific examples from the book. The comet was my story (hey, self-promotion is one of the few benefits of being assigned to write the jacket copy) and the bug zapper was from our big fish, Mark Tufo. Actually, this entire volume's theme, which I also created, was reverse engineered so that we could include Tufo's piece. All the other authors were then invited to follow the theme.

Yes, every darkness has a source, every monster has a birthplace, and every evil has an origin.  Threes again. In the second volume of the #1 Bestselling AT HELL’S GATES series, twenty-three of the finest dark fiction authors working today will force you to witness the ORIGINS OF EVIL. I was very excited when the first volume got a #1 button from Amazon UK because I knew we'd be able to promote ourselves as "#1 Bestselling" forever.  Each unique tale of terror traces an unspeakable horror back to its very beginning.

All proceeds from this horror anthology series go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a charity benefiting military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. The authors and editors of this series are pleased to donate their time and effort to a truly worthy cause.  I either lifted this paragraph wholesale or altered it slightly from the jacket copy of the first volume, which was written by the inimitable S.G. Lee. It was important to me in the jacket copy to balance the horror content with the charitable intent, because I assume those attract two slightly different audiences, although obviously there's an overlap or we wouldn't be doing this.

So sit back, relax, support a fine charity, and enjoy twenty-three tales of dawning calamity from some of horror fiction’s leading lights.  This is sometimes called an "elevator pitch" - in other words, if you only had an elevator ride to sell your product to someone, what would you say?  In one sentence, I tried to capture all the beats that went before: charity, horror, origins, great authors.  Bam.

Well hopefully this was a little bit illuminating about how an author (or, me, anyway) goes about writing jacket copy.  And make sure to check out this volume and the whole series.  If I haven't sold you on it by now, I've failed at my appointed task.  :)

Monday, May 11, 2015

My 1000th Post

Geez, that's pretty hard to believe.  When I started this blog way back in the Dark Ages (2009 - we didn't even have "Game of Thrones" yet) it was for the sole purpose of having a platform for my nascent writing career.  My (published) high school valedictorian had recommended I start a blog as a stepping stone to getting published, and so at around the same time as I sat down and googled "how to get published" I also googled "how to start a blog."

And the result was this misbegotten mess, named after an obscure Bulgakov quote and with a mission statement of dazzling the world with my unpublished (and unpublishable) manuscripts.  I remember thinking at the time (I'm not even exaggerating) that a time would never come when I would run out of trunk scripts to throw up as free original content, and so I went off cracking with a daily posting schedule, which quickly became five days a week.  As things turned out, I ran out of manuscripts in mid-2010, which was when we switched from posting five days a week to a more reasonable 3-days a week, off and on.  2015 has been the only year since then I've made a conscientious effort to stick to that schedule and not to just fudge it or flip over to a T-Th schedule every few weeks when I feel like it.

The blog's evolved a lot since that original mandate, not unlike my Twitter feed.  (Anybody remember when I used to tweet fake fortune cookies?  Haven't done it in an age and a half.)  There have been long stretches when I flailed for meaning.  In 2013 I transformed it into the home base for the Hundie Challenge.  That was the same year the gods conspired to ensure that I would get published, and hence would curse myself endlessly for not taking the Hundie Challenge in 2012, as I had always intended to.

So 2013 was a transformative year.  It was the first year I started taking on guests, which was a transformative decision in and of itself.  For one thing, I love being able to showcase other people, and having a platform where I can hopefully do a little good for another human being.  On the other hand, it saves me from having to constantly generate original content.  (Although, if I'm being honest, I spend a LOT of time researching my guests before I interview them, so it may actually be less trouble to just write a damn blogpost myself.)

2014 didn't have a special theme, but 2015 has been my Year of Interviewing Dangerously.  I don't know why, but previously I always thought of guest posts as something that should stay within a certain wheelhouse.  Basically folks should ask for my help, folks about at my level in the publication process.  But for some reason in 2015 I realized that I could ask, well, any-goddamned-body to be on my blog.  And a lot of people are so flattered just to be asked, that they don't even realize what a scam it is.  So I've had actors, big-time authors, musicians, and even television showrunners on my humble old blog, which has, to be frank, sent my readership into the stratosphere.  So don't expect that to stop any time soon.  I'm hoping that just by dint of the fact that I'm a thoughtful host who does well-researched interviews of people who create things that I really care about, that this blog might just become a place where creative types like to be interviewed.  Hey, crazier things have happened.

So, here we are.  One thousand blog posts.  A giga.  A kilo.  A K.  Won't you join me for a thousand more?

Friday, May 8, 2015


Now that I've got your attention...shit.  I didn't really think this through.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"N" is for "Not"

Let me pose a question:

A Question

What's the difference between Daniel Tosh telling a rape joke and Louis C.K. telling a joke about white privilege?

Pretty loaded stuff for a Wednesday morning, huh?  I'll get to the answer in a minute, but to give you some time to ponder that, let me tell you a story.

A Story

When my very first book was published, and I didn't (to be honest) know my ass from a hole in the ground, I had a phone conversation with a publishing professional.  We were getting to know one another as we'd be working together, and discussing our overall vision for the book.

We got to discussing the part which everyone loves, or at least, which stands out, of my first novel, which is the brothel scene.  Basically my hero, an intelligent zombie, goes to an undead whorehouse, where they have mix-and-match body parts.  I asked what she thought of that scene.  Her response?

"Honestly, I worried you have a bunch of dismembered bodies in your basement."

I don't really remember how I responded at the time.  I probably laughed it off, not knowing or not thinking any better.  

An Answer

Okay, remember that question I posed at the beginning?  Obviously, this is just an answer, not the answer.  But if you ask me, Tosh telling a rape joke is insulting because Tosh is a callous hack who cares more about shock value than anything approaching artistic integrity.  Artistically speaking, he's the kid on the playground with such low self esteem he eats worms for nickels.

Now, Louie on the other hand, is a diligent craftsman who has spent decades establishing his credentials as a thoughtful, intelligent comedian.  His show has dealt responsibly with issues such as rape, racism, homophobia, bullying, drug abuse...basically any substantive issue of the day he has dealt with substantively, if not hilariously. 

The difference, in a word (well, two words in Latin) is bona fides

A Saying

There's an old saying, made most famous, of course, by Star Trek VI: "Only Nixon could go to China."  Essentially, Nixon had made a career as an anti-communist.  He had established his bona fides as early as his high school yearbook, where he was voted "Least Likely to be a Communist."

So when Nixon met with Mao Tse-Tung to attempt to normalize relations, no one could accuse him of kowtowing to the communists.  (This was during the Cold War, and this sort of thing was all Very Important Business, apparently.) 

This sort of thing is apparently still pertinent today.  There are people who question the president's intentions when he's negotiating with Iran because they don't trust his bona fides.  Or when an important senator talks about being inclusive even though he's made a career of excluding people, it rings false.  It happens all over.  What you say, what you promise, what you do, is all at least partially colored by who you are.  Which can lead to tribalism, but it can also just lead to considering the source.

In fact, that reminds me of a second old saying:

A Second Saying

"When you've established a reputation for waking up early you can sleep until noon."

The Moral of the Story

The lady who I had talked to had a boss.  And it turns out her boss had a policy, unbeknownst to me (and, to be fair, quite possibly unbeknownst to the offender - I have to assume she wasn't being malicious) that the artist is not the art, and you can't treat us that way.

Horror authors like me shouldn't be accused of being serial killers.  Just like romance authors shouldn't be accused of being cheaters.  And if there's a racist character in a book, it's entirely possible (in fact, pretty goddamned likely) that the author is shining a light on racism, not that he or she is racist.

Now, are there exceptions?  Yes, of course.  "The Birth of a Nation" was just a racist director directing a racist movie.  Shit like that happens.  Which brings us back around to bona fides.

A Rule of Thumb

I say, when in doubt, just remember that an artist is not the art.  You need to judge both.  But you need to judge both separately.  I think Ayn Rand is an execrable human being, possibly the worst person who ever lived.  (That can be a subject for another blog post if there's interest.  Remind me in the comments if you care.)  However, I can't say that her novels are bad because of it.

Then again there are great people who make shit art.  There's an old Monty Python sketch about how Jesus may have been the Son of God, but he was a terrible, terrible carpenter.  I think Bono does great charitable work, all over the world, for AIDS and water research and all kinds of things, but I deleted that godawful new U2 album from my iPhone as fast as my fingers could allow.

And a third example, perhaps the most perplexing of all.  Orson Scott Card is a terrible, terrible person.  And yet...ENDER'S GAME is a brilliant book.  One of the greatest science fiction novels ever written.  I'm torn, honestly torn, on how to consider any of Card's work.  But the easiest way to do so is to separate the artist from the art, judge them each, and then decide what you can or can't live with.

A Second Question

Supposing you didn't like The Avengers: Age of Ultron, considered it sexist, maybe even misogynistic, but bearing in mind what you know about director Joss Whedon's bona fides...what is your final judgment on the matter?  (Feel free to let me know in the comments below.  Or in a storm of vitriol on Twitter.  Whichever floats your boat.)

Monday, May 4, 2015


Every time I'm feeling down on myself for being crappy and unsuccessful - or just the opposite, and I'm walking on sunshine because I feel like hot shit in a champagne glass - I take a look at this screen capture. 

You know what this is?  It's incontrovertible evidence that I once beat THE HUNGER GAMES.  It's also an exemplar of why all the dumbass metrics we as authors pursue are pointless.

This screen capture comes from a list on Goodreads.  Goodreads is a website which authors obsess over and which, as far as I can tell, muggles have no idea exists.  The "lists" feature of Goodreads is even more obscure.  I'm not even confident authors know about that functionality.  Literally any jagoff can create a list with literally any title.

I remember once when I was young the "Little Nemo" cartoon movie came out, and the commercials proudly proclaimed that it had won the award for "Best in Category" at some film festival.  I asked my sister how that could possibly be true and she responded, "Well, the category could be 'Kids Movies Where the Hero's Name Starts With the Letter N.'"

That's what this picture is.  And that's what a lot of our pissing contests as authors are.  I might get kicked out of the Magician's Union for this, but I'll let you in on a little secret: if you're not a "bestselling author" you're an idiot.  Pretty much every author that can get their mother to buy a book can become a bestseller.  Because there are categories on Amazon so obscure that they have less than a hundred books.  So by dint of the fact that you've published a book in the "Kids Movies Where the Hero's Name Starts With the Letter N" category, you'll instantaneously become a "bestseller."  In the most technical sense.

And sometimes, we just have to step back and remember that all these metrics - sales, ranks, reviews, etc. - are just bullshit.  Some people are better at gaming the system.  Some people are just legitimately more popular.  But worrying about things like this makes about as much sense as Suzanne Collins worrying that I beat her on a Goodreads list once.  Our quality, our sense of self-worth and success should come from within.


Friday, May 1, 2015

I Appear on "The Horror Show" with Brian Keene

Well, I guess at this point I've spent the whole week talking about this, but whatever, its my blog, I do what I want.  Anyway, as I mentioned on Monday, I go to meet up with Brian Keene, 2014 World Grand Horror Master and Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE RISING.  (Not to mention my personal hero and the one who inspired me to write horror in the first place - but I have to avoid glurging too much, because supposedly he does read this blog.)

The result was the greatest interview I've ever done, if I do say so myself.  (Or, as Alex DeLarge would say, "a real horror show."  Ha!)  We talked about Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, wargaming, and did a segment on each of my novels.  I was also christened a member of the bizarro community, so yay me! 

If you're a fan or a friend I hope you'll help spread this around so we can make it the most listened to episode of "The Horror Show" ever.  (I want to get invited back.)  So click on the picture or check out your preferred link below!

Or just click play below:

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