I’m the YEAR’S BEST, mofos!

(Probably more accurate to say “I’m [the author of one of several works counted among] the YEAR’S BEST [stories within the horror genre], [my esteemed] mofos!“, but, whatevs, right?)

YearsBestHorror10-cover-llciikicdniigigoI keep forgetting to crow about this: The last story I sold to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction–“Whatever Comes After Calcutta” (link to my interview about it)–has been selected for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year (Vol. 10).

The full table of contents is good company, and the cover art kicks ass! Keep an eye peeled in your local bookstore this summer.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Better You Believe                              Carole Johnstone       
  • Liquid Air                                           Inna Effress                
  • Holiday Romance                               Mark Morris                         
  • Furtherest                                           Kaaron Warren                      
  • Where’s the Harm?                             Rebecca Lloyd                     
  • Whatever Comes After Calcutta        David Erik Nelson           
  • A Human Stain                                   Kelly Robson                         
  • The Stories We Tell about Ghosts     A. C. Wise                            
  • Endosketal                                         Sarah Read                              
  • West of Matamoros, North of Hell    Brian Hodge                      
  • Alligator Point                                   S. P. Miskowski                     
  • Dark Warm Heart                               Rich Larson
  • There and Back Again                       Carmen Machado               
  • Shepherd’s Business                           Stephen Gallagher             
  • You Can Stay All Day                        Mira Grant                             
  • Harvest Song, Gathering Song            A. C. Wise
  • The Granfalloon                                  Orrin Grey                             
  • Fail-Safe                                              Philip Fracassi                       
  • The Starry Crown                               Marc E. Fitch                         
  • Eqalussuaq                                          Tim Major                 
  • Lost in the Dark                                  John Langan                         

Incidentally, I immediately spent the money I got for this reprint on a bunch of “folk metal” and “hauntology” music.  The former is probably self-explanatory (metal music heavily influenced by folk music of various regions—this article is a good place to start, if you’re curious).  The latter is apparently a British thing, where folks make fake soundtracks to non-existent low-budget 1980s horror films and British paranormal TV series.  My current heavy rotation faves are:

  • Blood of the Black Owl (Pacific Northwest folk metal—big Americana and Native American influences, neat soundscapes)
  • Zuriaake (Chinese folk metal)
  • Klaus Morlock/The Unseen (pretty straight hauntology—i.e., fake soundtracks for non-existent 1980s horror films/paranormal UK TV shows)
  • Thorsten Schmidt (more hauntology)   
  • Nubiferous (I’m not sure what this is–it’s like folk metal without the metal, or hauntology without the pretense.  It’s from Russia)

Recommended Read: “The Donner Party” in @FandSF (updated)

“The Donner Party” is mos def my fave story in the last issue of F&SF. It seems like an obvious gag straight through to the untangle—at which time it becomes bone chilling. Downright perfect dismount, in my humble. Recommended.

See also: Interview: Dale Bailey on “The Donner Party” : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

UPDATE: If you’re look to read something by Bailey right this second, he has a story up at Tor.com: “The Ghoul Heads West

Continue reading “Recommended Read: “The Donner Party” in @FandSF (updated)”

A Modest Proposal in the Wake of the Repeal of Net Neutrality

SILVER LINING ALERT: While the imminent repeal of Net Neutrality will, over time, prove to be a major net loss for folks in general, there are three groups that could make hay while this new, crappy sun shines:

  1. Victims of revenge porn
  2. Victims of child pornography
  3. Their lawyers

Why? Internet providers have fought for and won the freedom to build revenue streams around regulating which packets traverse their networks how fast—and even to completely throttle some packets based on whatever criteria they like.  If they can do that, then they can certainly be held accountable for what is distributed through their networks.  They are no longer neutral conduits of information—and they have deep pockets.

I, for one, am saddened by this likely fatal blow to a free and open Internet—but I really, really look forward to watching victims—of hacks, of interpersonal betrayal, of privacy invasion, of documented childhood sexual assaults—sue the ever-loving shit out of Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, et al.

Go get ’em, Tigers!

Freelancers: You’re Freaking Out too Much about Working too Little

Short version: Most office workers in the United States have a nearly 9-hour workday, but are only productive for about 3 hours.  I.e., if you are a freelancer doing work that an office worker might do, then you can almost certainly make a decent living on ~3 hours per day. 

Please stop beating yourself up and running yourself ragged.  Focus on doing good work for half of each day and you’ll be just fine.

Here’s the Chart Your Bigoted Cousin Needs to See

You know when your cousin–or whoever–archly intimates that Those People don’t really need food assistance or tuition assistance or healthcare subsidies or whatever, because “You always see Them with nice clothes or a new iPhone or a big flatscreen TV!” or whatever?

Remember this chart.  And then show him this chart. 

Similarly, when he points out that folks used to be able to work a summer in a factory and pay for a full year of college, back before affirmative action and illegal immigrants took all the decent jobs from hard-workers and gave them to the under-qualified and under-productive–please, once more, remember this chart.  And then show him this chart.

Poor people have nice TVs because wages have gone up a little and the price of TVs has dropped like a brick.  Cousin Bigoty can’t afford to get his kids an education because wages have gone up a little and tuition has shot the moon.


That said, economically speaking this chart is by no means a slam dunk for any particular political worldview. Check this article, with its nearly 180-degree interpretations of this chart: The same data can be read as either an indictment of failed socialism being inevitably co-opted and driving up the cost of necessities, or as an indictment of late capitalism giving the masses their “bread and circus” while denying them the necessities of serviceable healthcare, housing, and education.

For my part, it looks to me like what happens when you have massive (and growing) income disparity: Everything divides into either run-away Veblen goods or near-disposable commodities (from the perspective of those at the nose-bleed heights of the top of the hockey stick). This chart illustrates why, for many Americans, America no longer feels great, and similarly why all the trade protectionism and corporate tax giveaways and draconian immigration restrictions in the world will never make America great again. 

“And then” is the key to writing shitty stories that don’t hold together (UPDATED on Feb 24, 2018)

Key takeaway: If the beats on your story outline can only be conjoined with “and then”, you are fucked. They need to be joined by “but” or “and therefore.”  By forcing yourself to use “but” and “and therefore,” you force yourself to go into the heads of your characters and actually pin down why they are doing what they do—which is a thing readers want to understand, and will be cranky if they can’t figure out.

Watch this for details:

Get More:



UPDATED February 24, 2018

Just to clarify, this is exactly what folks are talking about when they talk about character’s motivations. If the characters’ motivations aren’t clear to the audience, it’s either because:

  1. You don’t know what’s motivating your characters to do what they do or
  2. You haven’t put those motivations on the screen/page

Subsequently, all the audience can figure out is “This happened and then that happened and then the other thing happened”—and unless they are willing to work overtime to dowse those motivations by reverse engineering them from the results, they are not going to be able to figure them out (and, even if they do figure out this unnecessary puzzle, they have every right to be pissed at you, because solving plot/motivation riddles isn’t their job; they’ve paid you to entertain them).

This is the Number One problem that I see hobbling (or, more often crippling) otherwise solid storytelling—especially in film (where, for a variety of cultural and economic reasons, a lot of the writers are really just barely cutting their storytelling teeth): the story gets lost because the plot goes slack because characters are just doing stuff for no discernible reason.  The result is that the audience gets bored—and subsequently angry, because you have wasted their money and time.

My wife and I were watching a horror movie the other day that perfectly illustrated the value of making sure you’ve got a story held together by “but”/”and therefore”, not “and then”. The movie ended, and we were lost for a second, trying to figure out what had just happend.  Then it all clicked together.  The story, I realized, fit together really nicely—in fact, it fit together more then nicely, it fit together gratifyingly—but in many individual scenes, the character’s didn’t seem to be motivated to do what they were doing.  From the audience’s perspective, the scenes were stitched together by “and then”s, instead of“but”/”and therefore”s. The story was solid, but the plot was muddled because understanding a plot requires understanding the causality at the heart of the story and understanding that necessitates understanding why folks do what they do—i.e., their motivations. (For the canonical bit on story vs. plot, check out E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel or just read this.)

(Incidentally, the horror movie in question was The Gateway, streaming on Hulu [originally titled The Curtain—which is, for a variety of reasons, a much better title]. Despite what I’ve just said, I really did dig this movie; if you like quirky non-Euclidean horror, give it a whirl.)

So, how do you avoid pissing off your audience this way?  One trick I know a lot of writers use (I think I first heard it from Jeff Vandermeer, who calls it “reverse outlining”) is to take the offending story and then re-outline it.  9 times out of 10, just writing it out in outline form, beat-by-beat, will surface problems in the logic or pacing of the story (even if you aren’t an outliner usually—I almost never write from an outline, but reverse outlining can often help me see where I’ve messed up, in much the same way as art students used to be taught to critique drawings by first flipping them upside-down).  Once you have that outline, step through it and make sure each element can be connected to the next by either a “but” or an “and therefore”.  Flag any line items that you can’t almost immediately link in this way, and then go back and look at them.  pro-tip: Many of this, you’ll find, can just be cut—turns out they’re meaningless little skin-tags marring the smooth skin of your plot.  Others, you’ll need to sort out and rewrite, but even there, you’ll be shocked at how often the “but”/“and therefore” pop out once you clean the crud out of there.

Why Do I Love this Ad So Much?

I dunno; I just do.  There’s something about it that makes it, in many ways, a more complete and superior horror story than any of the like-length CryptTV videos on YouTube.  I think the principal problem is that when a “horror film” goes below ~3mins, the filmmakers almost invariably seem to decide that all they can possibly do in that time is craft a jump scare.  As such, the piece is inherently callous (if not outright cruel) to the viewer.  It’s bullying art, art that has decided it needs (or should, or is right) to inflict itself on you.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t like art that confronts you with unpleasant realities—in fact, I sorta like that art best of all—but I want for us to go to that place together (both as a person making art and a person consuming it). 

But then we have something like this—or like the weird, wonderful [Adult Swim] videos I’ve linked in the past.  Because these things don’t think of themselves as horror, I feel like they’re more open to creating a more nuanced kind of horror, even in a much more compressed chunk of time.

The horror in this SNL skit is in what it implies about the universe that this family lives in, all the stuff that’s outside the frame (including that escaped almost-pizza beast).  And part of what makes that horror is the fact that the world we actually really live in—this world, where I am sitting and tying and you are sitting and reading—is outside that frame too, and thus is sharing space with the horrifying reality that put these characters in that room with that awful thing (brought to you by Pfizer).

Presented without further comment: The CIA’s “Timeless Tips for ‘Simple Sabotage'”


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[source: Timeless Tips for ‘Simple Sabotage’ — Central Intelligence Agency]

FUN BONUS EXERCISE: Read this whole thing, and ask yourself:

Is this more plausible as a CIA guide for resistors trying to drag down fascists in foreign nations, or as a plot to nudge patriotic Americans into suspecting organized labor and broad progressive social movements of actually being enemy saboteurs? 

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Recommended Read (Listen): “Bring Rope” by Liam Hogan

An excellent little horror story; starts ~4min 30secs into this episode of Tales to TerrifyTales to Terrify 306 Liam Hogan Franz Kafka.  This podcast is usually pretty solid, if you like straight-up traditional audiobook-style readings of short horror fiction.  Puts me in the mind of Kathe Koja’s The Cipherbut more for art reasons than horror reasons.