Friday, October 18, 2013

31 Days Of Horror: The 31 Dayening: Doctor Sleep

There’s no point in mincing words, I’ve been dreading Doctor Sleep pretty much since it’s been announced. Not in a good way either. I’ve been a big proponent of King’s late period. By my mark everything he’s written since Cell has been worth reading and a good deal of it (particularly Full Dark No Stars) deserves mention among the best work he’s done. While the last seven years haven’t been entirely without missteps (I still say Under The Dome stumbles at the finish line) taken as a whole the body of work King has produced is incredibly strong.

This did nothing to bolster my confidence in Doctor Sleep.

The Shining is a perfect popular novel. If you have any interest in writing genre fiction, not just horror fiction, you owe it to yourself to read it. It’s a freaking machine. The word page turner is often used dismissively, but the construction of The Shining, the way every revelation baits you deeper and deeper into the book is a thing of beauty. And it’s all in the service of a story with so much empathy and hurt that it matters. The fact that the book is scary as hell almost seems like a bonus. That’s not the kind of thing you can just replicate. Particularly thirty five years after the fact.

And as details on Doctor Sleep leaked out it didn’t exactly inspire confidence. The initial premise, Danny Torrance working at a hospice where he helps ease his patient’s transition into death, sounded promising, but then King announced that “psychic vampire pirates” would be in the mix and sometime after that I trained myself to stop reading articles about Doctor Sleep.

So color me pleasantly surprised that Doctor Sleep is a complete blast of a novel, it might not have the ambition of 11/22/63, it might not be as introspective as Duma Key, or push his limits like Lisey’s Story. But it ranks among King’s most purely entertaining work. God help me I never thought I’d type this, but the story in which Danny Torrance battles what for all the world reads like the world’s first NC-17 Sailor Moon villain, ends up being not merely an entertaining read but a genuinely satisfying conclusion (continuation?) to The Shining.

After a brief prologue Doctor Sleep opens with Danny Torrance as a wreck, having followed his father’s footsteps much closer than the ending of The Shining would have you guess. Drifting and self destructive Danny finds himself drawn to a New England town where he joins AA, finds work at a hospice, and prepares himself for a destiny he can faintly see coming.

Doctor Sleep is one of those happy books were even its flaws end up working for it. At first The True Knot, arguably the best villains that King has cooked up since Annie Wilkes, and their carny slang patois seem jarring and out of place. But they end up being conduits for the sheer love of language that has always been one of King’s best qualities. No other popular novelist has King’s pure pleasure in playing with words, deconstructing them into babble, smashing together disparate bits of counter slang into inimitable phrases. It takes Doctor Sleep a bit to kick into its main plot, but that’s only because the AA material is so obviously heartfelt. And if Doctor Sleep, like this year’s Joyland, is kinder gentler King, with characters he can’t quite bring himself to really put the screws to, he’s still capable of hitting hard enough in the early goings of the story that you never take anyone’s safety for granted.

Heartfelt, funny, and genuinely eerie at times, far from derailing King’s late period resurgence as I feared it might Doctor Sleep continues it in high style. Hail to the king baby.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Our Lady Of Darkness

For six years now Bill Ryan has been running 31 Days Of Slash. And if you want an education in horror literature there is no better place to go.

This year he's invited some of us to play along, and I somehow got on the guest list. My contribution was Fritz Leiber's Our Lady Of Darkness. Check it out here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Evil Dead

I did everything short of suffer a major head wound in order to walk into the new Evil Dead with an open mind. After all, this wasn’t a Platinum Dunes situation. Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell retained the rights to their breakthrough movie. The remake was put into production by the three. They handpicked the director and the script. No reason it couldn’t be good. Why there’s no reason to think of it as a remake at all really, just a film set in the same universe, another group of unlucky so and sos who stumbled across the wrong book and got possessed by some nasty Kandarian demons for their trouble. To quote another beloved cult film, I walked into Evil Dead thinking, “I have a positive feeling about this.”


In all fairness Evil Dead isn’t as bad as most of the remakes of classic horror films that have oozed out over the last decade and a half. The fact that it’s made by people who clearly understand and care about the source material, rather than seeing it as a license to print the coin of the realm shows. This is more on the level of the profoundly miscalculated remake of The Thing. Which is even more baffling.

Evil Dead actually starts of pretty strong. With an opening prologue that cleverly inverts expectations and actually bares a closer resemblance to Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell than Evil Dead (not that this is at all a bad thing). But things get off to a bad start just as soon as we get to the plot. The story is basically the same as the original, five friends go to an isolated cabin in the woods, where they find a book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood (also wrapped in barbed wire with a helpful note urging them reconsider reading it, no points for guessing what they immediately do). The twist on the remake is that the friends have gathered for an intervention not a vacation and so when one of their members starts shrieking, convulsing and cursing its hardly unexpected.

In the early going Evil Dead is an effective, if still vaguely pointless remake of The Evil Dead. It’s not shot with the innovation or the passion of Raimi’s original, but there’s some decent character rooted horror in the mix, and a few intense scenes that make good use of the film’s hard R. But things go off the rails and hard when for some bizarre reason the filmmakers decide that the threat of being murdered by your demon possessed friends isn’t a strong enough hook for the film to rest on, and they instead must bring in a master plot, about prophecies and chosen ones and the apocalypse and yadaddaaddaaa because now even freaking Evil Dead needs to have the exact same plot as ninety percent of what comes out of Hollywood.

The original Evil Dead is as organic and eccentric as movies get. It’s a film that made because the creator had to make it and was determined to have a career directing. It’s more than a labor of love it’s a labor of will. The remake never really had a hope of matching that passion, and all the cute call backs and gallons of gore can’t disguise the fact that the urgency just isn’t there.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

31 Days Of Horror: The 31 Dayening: The Horror Of Self Publishing

So not exactly the roaring start I wanted to get off to. But circumstances beyond my control kept me from getting this up earlier. 

A year (and some change ago) I self published the e version of my book Son Of Danse Macabre. If you've ever been to this site before you've heard of it. Since then I've sold more copies than I have friends or family thus ensuring that my head would come out of the oven. I'm modestly in the black and proud of the little bugger. I've received great reviews and pans. In short it's been a blast.

So for the one year anniversary (more or less) I've decided to write up some reflections on the whole ebook thing. Make no mistake the learning curve was steep and brutal. If you're thinking of entering the lofty realm of epublishing, see if you can't avoid some of my mistakes with the advice below. Or just, you know- laugh at my pain. 

So you’ve decided to self publish an ebook! Congratulations. No you’ve earned it. Spending all that time muscling through your first draft. Then taking the time to painstakingly fine tune it through a couple more drafts, to make sure that it was theoretically something people might want to read. Giving it to a few Beta Readers so you can make sure that it’s actually something that people would want to read. Hiring a copy editor to- Wait you have done all this right?

Because if you haven’t that’s a whole ‘nother article’s worth of stuff. This is for after you have already gone through all the travails and psychological damage of actually writing your book, and having given traditional publishing a miss for one reason or another (They didn’t want your book, or you’re looking to take advantage of the exciting new paradigm…they didn’t want your book) you are now actually trying to get people to read it. Because brother, I know you’ve put a lot of work into it already, but we’ve got a whole new mountain to climb.

I published my ebook, Son Of Danse Macabre at the beginning of October, and I’ve learned a lot. True, much of what I learned, I “learned” the way a hapless schmoe learns not to make bets with a bookie he can’t afford to pay when a thug with forearms like Popeye’s shatters his knees with a lead pipe. But learning is learning so lets see if we can’t save you the trouble.

5. It Isn’t Free: If you take one lesson from this article let it be this one. Ebook publishing is “free” the way that digital filmmaking is “cheap.” It’s true in a very loose sense, and you can upload a video of you and your buddies hitting one another with your cars (or whatever the kids are into these days) for next to nothing. But if you want something that looks more professional than sour owl poop you are going to need to shell out some bucks somewhere.

Let’s start at the beginning. Do you have a cover? Can you draw? Does your drawing look better than something on the side of a van? Can you ink what you’ve drawn? Can you blend your illustration with a graphics like your title, and author? Can you do this all so it is legible on a tiny ebook screen, and the tinier version that the ebook shop will give it? No? Can your cousin Cletus? Would you buy a book that only had size fourteen Times New Roman on its cover? No? Than why would you expect someone else to? Prepare to shell out to pay for an artist, and if you’re extremely lucky an artist with a halfway competent sense of graphic design.

But lets say that you’re an amazingly talented artist with photoshop skills that would make the angels weep. Do you know anything about coding? Yes coding. Ebooks need to be formatted. No? Are you willing to spend hours wading through contradictory tutorials and advice? Are you willing to spend further hours experimenting with trial and error in order to get something that looks halfway legible up on the mock e-reader screen that Barnes and Noble and Amazon provides (Oh how you will grow to hate that screen). Are you willing to throw up your hands and weep tears of blood when there’s stuff that still just won’t work even after you’ve painstakingly learned the principles and made sure that there’s no logical reason for it not to work. (My author photo won’t show up in my Kindle edition of the book for reasons that no one, least of all Amazon can figure out. In the nook edition There is word that the nook decided should be represented vertically? Why? Why not? Though it was at the beginning of an article on Lovecraft so perhaps I was asking for it.) Would you perhaps like to use that time for something more productive? Like say drinking and staring at a wall?

Here’s another one for size. Are you a good copy editor? No let me ask that again. Are a good copy editor? Not do you think you’re a good copy editor. Do you know you’re a good copy editor. The importance of this is impossible to overstate. I feel like my generation was brought up with a very Laissez Faire approach to grammar. But nothing separates the amateur from the professional quicker than a quick look at the neatness of copy. A fact I learned to my sorrow when I sent my manuscript to an author I truly admire, something of an elder statesman in the field of my book, who sent me back an email that so indignant that one would have thought that I had sent him a slate with that consisted of the single word Cat spelled K-A-T-T with only a crudely etched picture of Mr. Whiskers beneath to give him the context I felt he needed to decode the work.

And in all fairness, he wasn’t the only one. The copy editor I sent the book to for triage sent me letters that often sounded as though he was considering seppuku rather than finish my work. Because no matter how many times I went over the book with a fine tooth comb there came a point of saturation when my brain was simply reading what it wanted to be there instead of what was actually there. This is common. No matter how talented of a writer you are. Trust me.

Which brings us back to our original point, lets say that you’re lucky enough to know three dependable people who can help you out in these areas. Let’s take it a step further and say that you know three people who will help you out in these areas for friend prices (Because I don’t know about you guys but I like to pay my friends when they do work for me. I’m funny that way) as I was, farming my cover out to a talented web comic artist  and the copy editing out to a seasoned copy editor I was lucky enough to know (The formatting I did myself but it wasn’t fun. Trust me.) You’re still starting out two to three hundred dollars in the hole. And that’s assuming that like Disco Stu you have decided not to advertise.

4. Pricing Mysteries

“Well that’s no problem!” you say to yourself. Three hundred bucks I can make that back in no time! I’ll just price the book at .99 cents and three hundred copies later whammo!  (We’ll strip you of that delusion when we get to number three.) I’ll be swimming in profit just like the swells!” Why you have started talking like Frankie from The Goon is a separate issue, and this article cannot help you with it.

There are several things wrong with this line of thinking but let’s tackle the biggest first. Let’s try a little thought experiment shall we?

Lets say you are walking down the street when you pass a shady looking character sitting atop a large red cooler, Tilde Cap pulled down over his eyes, handle bar mustache waxed to a gleam, only the absence of a Pabst Blue Ribbon makes you think he’s not a hipster. “Psst… Buddy,” he whispers, “Wanna by a human liver?”

Being a sharp fellow with an open mind you stop in the street to consider, “Welllll…” you say stroking your chin, “I do like a good human liver? How much is it?”

And that’s when the guy grins, “That’s the best part chum. It barely costs nothing! Just .99 cents.”

Which is the part where you cry out, “Aw nuts to you!” and keep making your way down the road, grumbling, “Who does he think he is, gonna offload his lousy busted human liver on me. What does he think I was born yesterday? Never bought no black market organs before?” Down the block you meet a second gentleman, very much like the first, who offers you a human liver for 100 bucks, “A hundred bucks!!!” You exclaim, “Now thems’ human liver prices!” You put the liver in your pocket and walk away whistling, “Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing!)”.

The point is that we as human beings immediately assume that if something is cheap there is something wrong with it. Or in the wise words of Lt. Aldo Raine, by whose model I always attempt to live by (the rash of recent scalping in Austin TX has nothing to do with this) “If it sounds too good to be true, it ain’t.”

Assuming that you can sell a lot of copies by making your work unbelievably cheap is foolish. All you’re going to do is make potential customers think that you don’t believe your work is worth very much. And if you don’t think its worth anything, then why the hell should they?

To make matters even worse for you, you have to remember that it’s not like you  get all the money you make off your ebooks. Amazon and Barnes And Noble aren’t making giving you a publishing platform because of their altruism (trust me I worked for Barnes And Noble, Ebenezer Scrooge was a more generous employer) They’re doing it to make money, and because of the smaller amount involved in a .99 cents sale they take a larger cut of the royalties. As in a seventy percent one. So lets say that you did sell your three hundred copies in the first month (you won’t) that wouldn’t get you the needed 300 dollars to cover your expenses. It would net you closer to 90. Still 210 in the red. And it’s not like you’re getting the money the next day either, it takes two months for the big two to cut you a check, assuming that you’re using direct deposit and assuming that your book has made the minimum amount of money for them to bother.

Thankfully there’s an easy solution, raise your price, at least to the point where you get a seventy percent royalty. Go on be a man, stick out your chest, tell the world “I deserve it!” That’s what I did, taking my book all the way up to the giddy heights of 2.99. Isn’t that still pretty cheap you say? I’m glad you asked oh hypothetical guy who lives in my head because that brings me to my next point.

3. Know Thy Audience Or Lack There Of.

Part of the reason that my book was so cheap was that it was a work of criticism. More specifically a work of criticism on the last thirty years of the horror genre. Covering films, comics, games and literature.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh man he must be rolling in that Lit Crit money!” It’s true it’s true, with the obscene amount of wealth I’ve made from my royalties from my Literary Criticism I’ve been able to buy a gold plated Audi which uses Evelyn Waugh’s writing desk as the passenger seat. The back seat is filled with crates of The Complete Poetry Of Czelaw Milosz. I throw them at the heads of random passersby screaming, “EDIFY YOURSELF.” It’s a fine life if you don’t weaken.

The point is that my book is selling not just to a niche, but to a niche within a niche within a niche. Not just to horror fans in other words, but horror fans who care to read what someone else things about horror, and furthermore care to read what I think about horror. It’s only fair that I meet them halfway, hence the low price point.

You should also make sure you know what you’re getting into. For all the wonderful democratizing elements about electronic self publishing, readers still treat Publishers as gatekeepers who ensure a minimum standard of quality. They see buying self published work as a risk. And in all fairness, they’re not wrong.

Of course some readerships are more open to it than others. As a rule Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy readers are all relatively open to the prospect since they are the readers of work that is pretty much on the fringes anyway. This is the same reason why these are the only genres that are able to support anthologies of short fiction (barely). They are genres built on a readership that knows the rewards of taking risks.

If you’re working in general fiction, mystery or various non fiction sectors (A Modest Proposal: Was John Swift Really That Far Off The Mark?), I’m sorry to say you are facing a much bigger uphill climb. Which funnily enough brings me to my next point…

2. Be prepared to whore thyself in new and Interesting Ways.

Lets get this out of the way, advertising for books doesn’t really work. It was something I was eager to experiment with. I bought space on the popular cult film web series The Cinema Snob. It resulted in zero sales. After that I tried a campaign on Facebook. It also resulted in zero sales. After that I tried working with Project Wonderful, and when I awoke from my nightmare coma (seriously don’t work with Project Wonderful) I found it had resulted in zero sales.

I’m currently running a campaign on Goodreads, a campaign that has thus far resulted in, let me just check the numbers here real quick... Ah yes. Zero sales.

The point is that traditional advertising doesn’t really work so well for books, or at least for ebooks. Another avenue is of course trying to get your work reviewed by web sites and magazines. You should totally do this.

But as Brian Michael Bendis (back when he was still interested in telling stories that other people hadn’t already told a million times before) wrote in his comic memory Fortune And Glory, you should do this with the same attitude of sending out a resumes. Send a hundred out in the hopes of landing one return response. Of the magazines and bigger sites I’ve sent my work to, I have been reviewed in a grand total of two and one was pan (And I know I shouldn't respond to bad reviews but Henry Potrait Of A Serial Killer was completed and screened in 1986, Hammer is British thus doesn't have any bearing on my thesis and I didn't cover short stories because I was following King's structure. That's why.) Don’t get me wrong I did the Snoopy Dance when I landed both, but it was a matter of playing the percentages. And trust me, seen that way it took a lot of work to get those two reviews.

You can also try reaching out to smaller blogs, but don’t expect a much higher rate of success. As anyone who has blogged and had any semblance of a readership knows, the second more than a dozen people who were searching for monkey porn and accidentally stumbled across your blog and start reading you, you are instantly inundated with requests to review everything from student films, to well… monkey porn. Often the monkey pornographers compose themselves with more dignity. It quickly becomes difficult for even the most modest blogger to respond to these people, let alone review them. However, if you have an ebook to sell I hope you treated these folks kindly, because in a nightmarish act of Karmic Retribution you become one of them. Clogging folks emails, the way you yourself have been clogged.

You can only depend on the kindness of strangers, and hope that they aren’t actually dragging you off to a mental institution.

So if advertising doesn’t work, and reviews are at best a crapshoot what does that leave you. Well unless you’re a complete sociopath (and lets face it this is the internet odds are about 50/50) you probably know some folks on the internet. And chances are if you know them on the internet, they probably have some sort of web presence as well. Use that.

By far my biggest boosts in sales came from my friends. Guys like the twin national treasures of Tim Brayton and Bill Ryan who were generous enough to give me plugs. Guys like the dudes I podcast with at the On The Stick collective, who let me flog the book relentlessly on their various shows. Or stand up fellas like JD. LaFrance or Le0pard13

Get creative, if you’ve written an entire book, chances are its not the first thing you’ve written. Maybe you’ve written for a website, maybe they’ll let you write about the book ( Maybe you’ve written for a paper, maybe they’ll have someone review the book. ( Why the hell not? Stranger things have happened.

1. Prepare for Exhilaration When You Sell.

So right now you might be wondering why you should bother at all. After all, You’ll have to shell out cash, work really hard to get the book seen by people, work even harder to get them to buy it and even harder than that to get them to read it. And if that all goes right you probably won’t make much money at all doing those things. So why the hell should you bother.

Because I guarantee you, that if you stick with it there will come a day when you look at your sales figures and go, “Wait a minute. I don’t have this many friends and one side of the family is no longer speaking to me. So that can only mean…” And then it will dawn on you. Someone, multiple someones, who you don’t know, have paid there good hard earned money to read what you have to say, and they have not apparently demanded there money back. There’s no other feeling like it in the world. It makes crack cocaine feel like a sip of O’Douls. Is E publishing worth the giant pain in the ass? Oh yes my friends. Yes it is.

And if you're one of the people who gave me that charge, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

31 Days Of Horror: The 31 Dayening: V/H/S/2

Yes I am actually giving this a shot. We’ll see how it goes.

V/H/S/2 is a much stronger film than its predecessor. V/H/S was one of those films that I didn’t mind as I was watching but which curdled somewhat in hindsight. Curiously, considering the first films success the makers of V/H/S/2 seemed to agree and the anthology film wipes the slate clean creatively, caring over Adam Wingard who directed the framing story of the original. The film features no returning directors and replaces the rather loathsome group of thugs who provided the first film’s wrap around story with a significantly less vile shady Private Eye, who along with his girl Friday, stumbles across a new cache of haunted tapes while searching for a missing student.

The tapes are pretty solid for the most part. Adam Wingard’s, “Phase I Clinical Trials” is an old fashioned haunting story that wouldn’t be out of place in MR James, about a man who receives a new high tech eye and starts to see ghosts with it. As said Wingard is the only director returning from VHS and thus his film is the only one that still has a whiff of the misogyny that plagued the first film like so much stinky cheese. But given that this particular character is clearly meant to be damaged it’s less objectionable and briefer than anything in the first film. It’s a pretty tough story to fuck up, and Wingard doesn’t, though he does raise questions he has no apparent interest in answering.

If there’s a bummer in the bunch it has to belong Eduardo Sanchez’s “A Ride in the Park.” Not that it’s a particularly bad piece of work, but given its pedigree I was expecting something a little stronger. It’s not every day that the man responsible for pretty much defining the modern day incarnation of a subgenre returns to said subgenre. But when he does one hopes it will go better than, “pretty clever”. Blame it on Zombie fatigue or over hype but while this is some well staged mayhem it falls short of Sanchez at his best.  The Blair Witch Project still stands as one of the most frightening films of all time, and Sanchez has done strong (and sadly underrated) work since then.  The film is a solid single, but given that its Sanchez’s most high profile project in a while I was kind of hoping for him to knock it out of the park.

No that particular distinction belongs to Gareth Evans “Safe Haven” a chillingly effective piece of horror that managed to be a lot of fun even with The Sacrament rattling around in my head. Though the idea of Evans leaving Kung Fu behind makes me sad on the inside, “Safe Haven” proves that should he ever chose to shed genres he will have no problem doing so. He finds the most innovative staging for the naturally limiting, first person horror that the series demands. He finds the most vantage points to shot from, and carefully sets up some matching shots, while keeping the limited claustrophobic viewpoint that the format provides. Most of the scares belong to him. The only flaw comes in the film’s final punchline, which while fine in and of itself is provided with a bit of physical effects work of which it can kindly be said is not up to snuff. Might I suggest a silhouette next time Mr. Evans?

Things close with Jason Eisener’s Slumber Party Alien Abduction. While a better than Eisener’s grotesque and not in a good way, entry into The ABCs of Death, Eisener’s work still falls short of the lunatic energy of Hobo With A Shotgun. Though in all fairness, the task of following up “Safe Haven” is pretty damn unenviable.  

All in all V/H/S/2 isn’t going to revolutionize the found footage genre, or change anyone’s mind about the format, but it’s a solid piece of work.

I am happy to announce that you can buy my work in print now. Yessir, the good folks at Paracinema have seen fit to unleash my words on an unsuspecting world. It's a retrospective on Sam Raimi's work, and you can read it in Issue 20. Seven Dollars! Cheep!


In further news I'm also happy to announce that I've started writing for Paracinema's website. Right now I'm in the midst of releasing my Fantastic Fest Coverage which was more fun than should be allowed. I've covered such works as The Sacrament, The Nightbreed: Cabal Cut, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. And some movies that aren't even horror.

Any tweets or facebooking is much appriciated.


And as always you can pick up my book Son Of Danse Macabre on The Kindle or The Nook. 2.99. Cheep! We're coming up on a year of my baby, and there'll be more to say about that later...

Until then, Hell Yeah OCTOBER!!!!