Random Thoughts

It’s Friday so I thought I would unwind with a few off-the-cuff thoughts on events as of late.

First, I’ve been getting started on the new novels I’ve always wanted to write. There is something new in the works for The Banner Saga. I can’t talk about it too much— the ink’s not dry and I’m leaving room for changes, but it is about 20% complete. This particular work isn’t a sequel to The Gift of Hadrborg, but that door isn’t close either.

I’ve also gotten started on the research for another, original title… it has no name, but it is a horror novel with a unique setting. It’s been years since I’ve written in the genre, and my approach pretty offbeat. Less gore, zombies, and bodily horror. More existentialism, psychology and ghosts.

Still, I must admit to being apprehensive: there’s a great section in Writer’s Digest that outlines dozens of potential literary agents. The problem is that the majority of them flat out say that they’re just not interested in horror.

Genre fiction is generally stiff-armed, but horror is singled out. I imagine it has the same problems other genres do: rehashing of old tropes, the same recycled ideas. Likewise, there’s also the risk that a submitted novel is just “murder porn” or a thinly veiled revenge piece (which can open the door to some real problems).

And then there’s misunderstanding about what attracts people to horror. The fans do tend to congregate around particular communities, and they have their own views about what’s good and not. The problem is it can be hard to tell what’s good-good and what’s so-bad-it’s-good. Is a line truly terrible or is it purple prose? Is it unreadable, or by some occult hand would it become celebrated and cherished? That’s a heavy question for an agent.

Agent hunting is a sign that I’m really starting to “get serious” about publishing. Sure, many small and medium sized publishers are happy to host the open door submissions policy. But lately there seems to be backtracking from the practice, likely as they discovered the deluge wasn’t worth it. Convincing one person your book can sell is often the right first step.

 

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Stranger Things Season 1 Review

Stranger thingsUntil indicated, this review is spoiler free. If you’ve seen it, skip below for analysis.

No one saw it coming. No one. Like an alien invasion or a paranormal event, Stranger Things is a bolt of 80’s goodness out of the blue.

On a cold night in November of 1983, young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears in his hometown of Hawkins, Indiana. As the search gradually begins, spearheaded by the haunted Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour), Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) has strange revelations as to the whereabouts of her missing son. Her antics grate and worry her eldest child Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) who starts his own investigation, eventually crossing paths with Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and plain crossing her new boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery).

Meanwhile, Will’s friends Lucas, Dustin and Nancy’s brother Mike (Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and Finn Wolfhard respectively) decide to buck the rules and search for their missing chum despite the danger. Instead they find a strange girl in the worlds named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and are pulled into a far greater mystery that is part man-made, and part not…

There are absolutely no limits to the 80’s references in the show. Showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer gently borrowed ideas and hints from a myriad of movies and shows, or even just used toys and games of the era. These ranged from hints of Aliens to Stand By Me, The Goonies, E.T.A Nightmare on Elm Street and It (although that was released in 1990), to impressions of Yoda. Yet despite the reliance on nostalgia the show stands on its own, entertaining whether or not the audience is familiar with these titles.

AlphabetThat last point raises a critical question about whether or not the show is suitable for younger children. The show’s heroes range from adults to teenagers to kids, pulling in audience from all age groups, giving appeal for the whole family. But although most of the violence happens off screen and the gore is subdued, some of the scarier elements risks nightmares for the youngest. This is especially true during the mesmerizing finale.

That said, Stranger Things is the engine of fan conversion. The perfect blend of science fiction and horror, carefully balanced between concerned and aware adults as well as a group of lovable children. No one is immune to the charm of Lucas, Mike and especially Dustin who all flip from their goofiness to concern just as real kids do. And although Stranger Things is a quintessential homage of the best of a decade, the show is a phenomenon no one can, or should, resist.

Analysis and spoilers follow from here on. 

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Penny Dreadful Season 2 Recap & Review

PDS2

This review contains spoilers.

Whatever weaknesses the first season of Penny Dreadful suffered from, the second has completely overcome them like a vampire who has discovered how to exist in daylight. The character development paces better and covers the whole cast, while the story expands and the plot thickens in all the right ways. Penny Dreadful season two is superior in every way.

Once again the intrigue revolves around Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), sought by the Devil for her incredible abilities as a spiritual medium and, as we discover, witchcraft. However her friends and protectors within the home of Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) are distracted by powerful dilemmas and charmed by new, terrible foes; a coven of witches known as the Nightcomers. Servants of the Devil who are capable of acting in both and day and night and in public or shadows, they’ll stop at nothing to have Ives as the bride of Lucifer.

PDCutWifeIn the flashback episode “The Nightcomers” we learn of Joan Clayton (Patti LuPone), the Cut-Wife, who reluctantly comes to protect and mentor Vanessa in both sides of the magical arts. Although only present for a single episode, LuPone’s performance beautifully portrayed her character as she balanced the line between her pragmatism and loneliness, a woman with a rough exterior that belies her genuine good heart.

By transferring the focus from Vanessa to Joan, showrunner John Logan wisely prevents audience-fatigue with Ms Ives while still strengthening her background. Furthermore, the connection between the two women improves our understanding of Vanessa’s knowledge and sets the stage for a test against her soul. Joan is connected to the aforementioned coven of witches, as her sister is none over than head-witch Madame Kali, who has long coveted Vanessa. Helen McCrory returns as said villain, revealing herself as the true foe after a brief guest star role during the first season. Her coven’s unusual methods of subversion result in Clayton’s tragic immolation by a mob, and set the stage for Vanessa to seek vengeance. More on Kali in a moment.

Meanwhile Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) struggles to keep a cap over the events of the first season, which are unraveling in ways brilliant and unexpected. The fury of the Creature (Rory Kinnear) has been temporarily assuaged with the death and revival of the “Bride of Frankenstein” Lily (Billie Piper), whom veterans of the earlier season will recognize as Brona, Ethan Chandler’s former lover, and the prostitute once in service to Dorian Gray.

Victor persuades the Creature to grant the young doctor time to teach Lily, as to prevent the confusion and horrors that befell his first creation. The situation sets up an inevitable conflict between Dr. Frankenstein and his friend Ethan (Josh Hartnett) who believes Brona dead and gone, but this has yet to pass. Worse yet, Lily’s innocence and interest in the world lead Victor to fall for his third creation, blinding him to the fact she has recollected her memories.

Meanwhile, Ethan Chandler has his own problems. The law has not forgotten the hotel massacre committed by Ethan’s werewolf persona. Nor has the lone surviving bounty hunter, who attempted to capture Ethan for delivery back to his as-of-yet unrevealed father.

The legal pressure on Ethan grows thanks to macabre Inspector Bartholomew Rusk (Douglas Hodge) who reveals Ethan’s real surname as Talbot, hinting at the identity of his fatherThe increased police presence is felt by the residents of Sir Murray’s Manor, and Ethan turns to Murray’s Senegalese servant Sembene, played by Danny Sapali, to help manage his lunar proclivities. These revelations further build their friendship.

Finally, Sir Malcolm Murray himself grapples with the demons of his past. The death of his vampire daughter Mina has destroyed what little remained of his marriage to Gladys (Noni Stapleton) and has left him persona non-grata in his wife’s presence. Yet honor prevents an official divorce. This unfortunate situation is “resolved” by an affair he has with Madame Kali, unaware of her motivations. The curses spun by her coven soon leave Gladys buried alongside both her dead children… a death seemingly by her own hand.

On the other side of the fence, Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) has slowly emerged as a villain in his own right. Starting a relationship with transgender prostitute Angelique (Jonny Beauchamp), the show reminded us of the times and how their relationship would be generally frowned upon. Dorian himself seems admirable, a true gentleman despite the struggles Angelique has with her identity.

PDAngelique

Unfortunately for Angelique, she stumbles upon Gray’s secret and we learn that even her acceptance of it isn’t enough to keep him from insuring her silence. Angelique’s murder feels complicated by myriad reasons. Keeping her from talking is but one, rather Dorian may have found some thrill in betraying and killing someone he loved. It could also have been because Dorian needed to clear the way for his new relationship with Brona, who seems intent on taking revenge upon the world itself for her previous, abused life.

The ending is powerful, shattering the group’s cohesion entirely. Victory was very costly, as the psychic assault the coven leveled against Sir Murray and Dr. Frankenstein drove them to the brink, while Ethan was tricked into committing a terrible act against his friend. Vanessa Ives emerged from her struggle the least damaged and even stronger for it, but seems the only one to do so. And although Madame Kali was defeated and slain (though death is questionable when the devil is involved), her treacherous daughter Hecate Poole (Sarah Greene) escaped to cause havoc another day.

PDASembeneThe hardest hitting moment of the season was undoubtedly Sembene’s death, at the hands of a transformed Ethan. The Senegal hunter had become an intriguing and likable character despite his aura of mystery, and watching his friendship with Ethan grow was remarkably enjoyable. It seemed likely that Danny Sapali was let go from the show for good, as he joined the cast of The Bastard ExecutionerHowever, with that show’s cancellation, and how often Penny Dreadful reverses death, a window is open for Sapali’s return.

For the rest of the cast, they become divided and ultimately alone. Victor Frankenstein, upon discovery of Brona’s rage, takes to the needle. Likewise the heartbroken Creature joins an expedition going north, after Brona rejects him and the family for whom he worked attempted to turn him into a freakshow attraction at a wax museum. A regretful Ethan Chandler turns himself in, only to discover that Rusk has orders to send him back to America. Murray returns to Africa with Sembene’s body. Only Vanessa stays put, alone in the manor.

As it stands, the third season is setting itself up for the difficult task of covering multiple plot lines. With the crew so scattered, the expansion of the story will be quite demanding. Season three is set to premiere in Q2, 2016.

Emby Press: Big Sale & Rewards Program

Emby-Orange_clipped_rev_1-300x300Big news!

Emby Press is having a sale today for all their titles. This includes the works of Josh Reynolds, Thom Brannan and a recent anthology which includes the works of A.R. Aston, Jonathan Ward and yours truly. If you’re a Kindler, you can get several great titles for dirt cheap. And yeah, this includes Reynold’s awesome Royal Occultist series.

But that’s not all.

If you deliver two reviews on Amazon or Barnes & Noble of their releases, Emby Press will reward you with a free ebook of your choice.

There are some great new releases coming out shortly too, so if you get two books for these lowered prices, you can do the reviews and ask about the upcoming DoomsdayDark Monocle and Occult Detective Vol. II.

So check it out today. Because this sale won’t last forever! 

Penny Dreadful Season 1 Review

This review is spoiler free.

Vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s creature… it’s not original to suggest these monsters unite in some shape or form. There have already been several such crossovers, in games like Castlevania or in movies such as The Monster Squad. But John Logan and Showtime have decided instead to revisit these old themes in the era of adult television. And when the word is out about the quality of the show and the depths of the story telling, fans of classic movie monsters will come running to catch horror drama Penny Dreadful, currently in its second season.

Much like True Detective, Penny Dreadful pays homage to an entire genre of writing, even in the name “penny dreadful” which references cheap literature from the Victorian times. The show slithers and scuttles, prodding the psychological as well as biological and bodily in disgusts. There is no kind of horror it will not blend into its well crafted amalgamation.

Set in London, 1891, Penny Dreadful combines not just the aforementioned monsters but their stories and source material into one very large universe that overlaps, though not rushing to do so. The main plot revolves around Grand Explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) who lost his son in Africa and returns to find his daughter Mina missing, presumably abducted by vampires.

With considerable income and influence at his disposal, Malcolm employs several enigmatic characters, including spiritual medium Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) and the physician Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). But where as each of these characters have their own reasons and secrets for siding with Sir Murray, their personal histories force them to keep each other at arm’s length. Today’s allies could easily become tomorrow’s problems. Thus the first season maybe the beginning of their alliance, it is far from the start of the story.

Penny-Dreadful-VampireSeveral works are referenced, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Exorcist and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Of these, Frankenstein’s plot thread is uniquely both the most faithful, and yet the most surprising in its twists, as it also borrows a trait or two from The Phantom of the Opera.

Despite this, there are very slight changes to the rules. For example, vampires come in two varieties; the infected slaves, with red eyes and white hair, and the masters who have rodent like features, and are utterly incapable of hiding in plain sight. Penny Dreadful isn’t afraid to put its own slight spin on the monsters fans hold so near and dear, but not so much as to push its audience away with alienating revisionism.

The show’s greatest blessing and curse is the reluctance to use computer generated effects for its characters. While this makes the monsters truly look incredible, I fear that there are certain elements which could be held in check… the full visual effect weakened. It remains to be seen in future seasons if this rule is broken or if John Logan can bring dazzling, classical movie magic to the small screen.

Another aspect that sets Penny Dreadful apart from so many other shows is its plentiful yet very mature approach to sexuality. The screenwriters seemed to know and fully understand that sex is not without consequences, which manifests in strong plot twists and revelations about the nature of the characters, even if it takes a few episodes for the effects to be felt. Hedonist Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) seems to be the central force in this, as his antics naively damage those about him despite his total amicability to the protagonists.

proteusThe first season was eight episodes long, each being an hour apiece, and the characters were very well developed and portrayed. But my only complaint about Penny Dreadful lies not in the quality of this but in the balance. The show tended to overload the audience with disproportionate personal development, and very little rotation. Victor Frankenstein gets almost two or three episodes of back story in a row, followed by Vanessa Ives.

The problems these character have are so extensive, they both require a third of the entire season just to stabilize. And while the show faithfully rewards its viewership for their patience, it can benefit from being more even.

But one weakness does not a bad show make, especially one as much fun as this. Catch Penny Dreadful on Showtime on Sundays, and check out the first season on Netflix DVD.

Spring 2015 Catalog

The small press publishing game is a very slow one. It’s easy to assume that last sentence is a complaint, but rather it’s insider knowledge of the challenges it takes to publish a good book.

msjWith multi-author anthologies, the biggest delays are obtaining rights, editing, and checking the changes against the authors’ permissions. Another time sink is the formatting, when one realizes the spacing between paragraphs and sentences is not uniform, or various word processors or fonts apply their own twist on the appearance of quotes and apostrophes. With electronic books, a relatively centered body of text is usually fine. But print has to account for the left-versus-right spaces between the pages themselves, lest words sink towards the spine.

I’ve been through the process enough to know.

Sorry, I’m digressing. But with good reason. I’ve been glancing over my bibliography and find it unfortunate that several of my tales have gone out of print with the closing of Cruentus Libri Press a year ago.

But between those stories and the expiration of publishing rights for The Black Winds Whispers, I now have a flash piece, three short stories and a novelette for republishing. Material enough to cobble together a low cost, personal anthology.

The central theme of this potential anthology is horror, but the sub-genres are more eclectic. I have a mystery and detective piece that takes place in London during the 70s. I have a World War I story between France and Germany, a psychological-medical tale, and the short, “The Child of Iron” which seemed a favorite amongst the beta readers. A fine mix of various forms of horror.

GuardiansWhile this is a very good start, I feel the need to provide a little more to make a satisfactory book. I’ve been glancing through my old drafts for any works I could dust off and improve. There is a World War II horror tale that certainly has promise.

I also realized that the rights to Welcome to Hell have ended. Which means that my horror western “The Rusted Star” can now be used. That makes for six pieces. I think that’s a solid measure.

There are also quite a few dark fantasy pieces (including one with Cthulu mythos in the Indus Valley civilization), but I feel that fantasy would be a theme-breaker for this anthology. Everything else is either current or historical, so I’d rather reserve those fantasy works for something else. I’ll see what I can find.

I’ve already contacted Manuel about a book cover and plan to take some time to review the old work throughout next month.

Because the majority of the manuscripts are finished and have been edited once, I think it’s reasonable I can have the entire thing complete and available by Halloween of this year. In the mean time, my faithful readers, here are a few other titles to check out.

“Favours the Prepared” from the Fox Pocket: Guardians.

To the outside world, Marissa is a reclusive shut in, remaining in her apartment and never showing her face. In truth, she is awaiting visitors.

The Good Fight“Sins and Dust” from Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2015.

A historical-horror tale of genuine mad science that takes place during the Dust Bowl storms of the 30s. A gut wrenching look into the emotional toll of the Great Depression, and the desperate lengths we would go to for our loved ones.

“The Beast in the Beauty” from The Good Fight.

Coming soon from Emby Press is our (yes, our!) biggest and best tale yet. Sara is a high school student with a bright future. But her graduation plans are dashed when she discovers that someone she knows has broken into her school and violently slain several people. But the truth changes the course of her life forever… and launches her into a war behind the scenes, taking place in the same universe as Jonathan Ward’s “The Falcon” and A.R. Aston’s “For a Fistful of Diamonds” which both are in this anthology.

The Good Fight is the prologue to Outliers, a superhero epic quarterly series we’re developing with a few other authors. So don’t miss it!

Project Scissors: Night Cry KickStarter

NightCryA crime is coming rather close to being committed. And the penalty for letting it occur is to be very, very bored next winter.

You may not be familiar with their names, but if you’re a gamer from the SNES to PlayStation era, you’ll certainly know their work. Hifumi Kono, creator of the Clock Tower series, has teamed up with Takashi Shimizu, director of The Grudge to form Project Scissors.

And while that’s a great start to the talent for a horror game, it’s further compounded by Art Director Kiyoshi Arai (several Final Fantasy games), Creature Designer Masahiro Ito (Silent Hill). And musically speaking, composers Nobuko Toda and Michiru Yamane (Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night respectively).

The resulting KickStarter game is called Night Cry.

A spiritual successor to Kono’s Clock Tower, the idea revolves around exploration, perhaps some puzzles, and ultimately running and hiding instead of fighting a foe that stalks you. Thus survival is yet another mind bending challenge.

Originally intended for mobile devices, enough fans pushed until the project was changed for release on the PC. But despite the promising amount of talent and the fair game price, they’re suffering from a lack of funds. More than a third of the allotted time has elapsed, and with roughly 20% of their $300,000 goal met. One possible reason for this is the fact the game is being released only in English at the moment and not Japan, which leaves it primarily to the English speaking countries to pick up the slack.

I went ahead and pitched $25 towards it, and I recommend that any horror fans out there do the same. For horror to live on, it has to be left to the artist and not made corporate. Lest we get another Dead Space 3 on our hands.

But that’s not the only item of Japanese influence on KickStarter.

SamuraiAfter some digging, I found something for war gamers, or just people who want some eastern flair to their table top games. Check out this nifty Samurai Lords KickStarter from Oliver James. These awesome pieces are based on the Battle of Sekigahara, and are more historic in detail than fantasy focused.

While I’m not sure there will be enough figures to fill out an entire table for war games, it does strike me as a great way to get a samurai character or two for specialty pen and paper RPGs or perhaps even some modding for Shadowrun or Warhammer/Warhammer 40k games.

So check these out, folks.