Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Movies. They’re a big part of my life. My personal DVD and BluRay collection contains more than 2,000 titles. Very few of them, however, were made in the last decade. This isn’t because I don’t want to love everything I see. It’s because I can’t. Frankly, most of the films I’ve seen in the last 10 years bore me to tears. There are always exceptions—six or seven films that genuinely excite me each year.

2012 was different. The best year in cinema since 1999. Some will undoubtedly disagree, and that’s cool. But I didn’t hallucinate my enjoyment of the following films, and it’s my hope you’ll dig the spirit of this list.

Full disclosure: I am not, nor do I wish to be, a film critic. I don’t discuss film by way of synopsis. Sometimes I have a lot to say and other times I find it hard to articulate how and why art moves me. I’m not interested in analyzing what I love. I just know it when I see it.


I love creation, and that’s what Cloud Atlas is. Though this film hasn’t received the wide acclaim it deserves, I believe it will stand the test of time. Any blemish here is the product of ambition. This is art reaching far. And connecting! Visually stunning. Emotionally moving. And transformative. The century’s best film thus far.   

#2 – ARGO

Ben Affleck. Damn, that man can direct! I saw Argo on its second day at a small theater in the Midwest. When it ended, people applauded. We’re not talking about an audience of fanboys who'd just watched their favorite comic book hero set to live action; rather, they came to see a film about the US government’s odd (but true) mission to rescue six Americans from Iran in 1979. Did I mention that everyone applauded?!? In my experience, that just doesn’t happen as a matter of routine. But Argo isn't the norm. It's a masterpiece. In just about any other year this would have been my favorite. In fact, Argo isn’t just my second favorite film of 2012, it’s my second favorite of the last decade. It manages to be suspenseful though we know what’s going to happen, and the Hollywood stuff is hilarious.   


My general distaste for romantic comedies isn’t rooted in cynicism. I love to love and I love to laugh. But most rom-coms are lame as hell, neither funny nor believable. Here we have David O. Russell’s brilliant Silver Linings Playbook, a film with a rare internal awareness about mental illness and the hard fought road to a second chance. What you won’t find are a series of pratfalls resulting inexplicably in happily ever after, though you will find a film that’s incredibly cognizant when it comes to clichés. Rather than avoid them, Russell does something more interesting—he plows through them with unbelievable grace, placing the focus where it belongs: the characters. You’ll hear everyone praise Jennifer Lawrence for her performance, and for good reason, but Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Anupam Kher are all outstanding. I truly loved every frame of this perfect film.


It could be said that Quentin Tarantino has been telling the same story since the first Kill Bill, trying like hell to make the perfect revenge film. I, for one, hope he does something new next time, but that doesn't mean I don't love Django Unchained. Reservoir Dogs is QT's paciest film and Pulp Fiction is his coolest and Jackie Brown is his most mature. But what we have here, in my humble estimation, is his best film. Some have knocked the violence, others have criticized the film's unflinching and direct approach to exposing racism, and a few have cited problems with the motivations of characters (particularly Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz). Go figure, QT didn't make this film in the vacuum of political correctness, and he didn’t feel the need to spell out a complex character’s thought process when he could show us the man’s odd internal logic through action. Why are some so shocked? Are they just now tuning in? Fact is, most people get it, and Django Unchained has done very well. Now QT can do something new? Again, hope so.  



Zero Dark Thirty is a challenging and exhausting film. It’s also a major achievement, despite the controversy surrounding its accuracy. Jessica Chastain’s performance is the finest of the year, and it’s the best thing about an enterprise that clearly isn’t seeking to entertain. That aside, Zero Dark Thirty is a compelling and indispensable government/military procedural that examines obsessive determination in the face of bureaucratic incompetence and indifference. Does the film justify torture? Not in my mind. Most of us have no firsthand experience when it comes to the horrors and politics of war. This is a glimpse into that dark abyss, and it’s also a mirror. This is who we are, it says. This is what we do. Even if Bigelow (director) and Boal (screenwriter) are guilty of connecting dots erroneously, they nailed the tone and mood. And they made a great film.


I’m a Bond nut. I grew up with 007 and have watched all of the Bond films (with few exceptions) hundreds of times. I disliked 2008’s Quantum of Solace (one of the worst in the series), but I love Skyfall. ‘Nuff said.


Simply put, Looper is cool. But it has plot holes, you say. Fair enough. Now show me a time travel thriller without a few plot problems and I’ll introduce you to Santa Claus. The focus here is on the characters, which is probably why I didn’t see the logic gaps on first viewing. That’s right, plot isn’t king in Looper. How utterly refreshing for a sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian future where the mob uses time travel to dump bodies. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis turn in terrific performances, but child actor Pierce Gagnon, who plays Cid, steals the show.


Sometimes I love Wes Anderson’s films (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), other times not (Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Moonrise Kingdom fits somewhere in the better half of Anderson’s oeuvre. What we have here is a charming and funny fairytale that's beautifully rendered. I loved it.


Killing Them Softly is a smart anti-thriller that explores the modern economic collapse through the lens of organized crime. The snappy dialogue is worthy of William Goldman in his prime. The film’s sole flaw is its heavy-handed use of radio and television footage to clarify its point. That aside, Killing Them Softly is a profound work of art.

#10 – KILLER JOE   

Killer Joe is a sick, depraved flick. It’s also William Friedkin’s best since 1985’s To Live and Die in L.A. I’ll never look at “K Fried C” the same way again. Or the song “Strokin’.”   

Honorable Mentions: The Master, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, Seven Psychopaths, Lincoln, The Avengers

Sunday, January 20, 2013

2012 Bram Stoker Award ® Preliminary Ballot Announced


Bodner, Hal - The Trouble with Hairy (Phantom Hollow Publishing)
Clines, Peter - 14 (Permuted Press)
Ethridge, Benjamin Kane - Bottled Abyss (Redrum Horror)
Everson, John - NightWhere (Samhain Publishing)
Faherty, JG - Cemetery Club (JournalStone)
Jordan, Lee F. - Coronation (Black Rose Writing)
Kiernan, Caitlin R. - The Drowning Girl (Roc)
Little, Bentley - The Haunted (Signet)
McKinney, Joe - Inheritance (Evil Jester Press)


Boccacino, Michael - Charlotte Markham and the House of Darklings (William Morrow)
Coates, Deborah - Wide Open (Tor Books)
Day, Charles - The Legend of the Pumpkin Thief (Noble YA Publishers LLC)
Dudar, Peter - A Requiem for Dead Flies (Nightscape Press)
Gropp, Richard - Bad Glass (Ballantine/Del Rey)
Hatchell, Dane - Resurrection X: Zombie Evolution (Post Mortem Press)
Holm, Chris - Dead Harvest (Angry Robot)
Jones, K. Trap - The Sinner (Blood Bound Books)
Soares, L.L. - Life Rage (Nightscape Press)
Sterbakov, Hugh - City Under the Moon (Ben & Derek Ink Inc.)


Bickle, Laura - The Hallowed Ones (Graphia)
Bray, Libba - The Diviners (Little Brown)
Burt, Steve - FreeK Show (Burt Creations)
Collings, Michaelbrent - Hooked: A True Faerie Tale (Createspace/Amazon Digital Services, Inc.)
Lyga, Barry - I Hunt Killers (Little Brown)
Maberry, Jonathan - Flesh & Bone (Simon & Schuster)
McCarty, Michael - I Kissed A Ghoul (Noble Romance Publishing)
Stiefvater, Maggie - The Raven Boys (Scholastic Press)
Strand, Jeff - A Bad Day for Voodoo (Sourcebooks)
Waters, Daniel - Break My Heart 1,000 Times (Hyperion Book CH)
Wilson, Connie Corcoran - The Color of Evil (Quad Cities Press)


Burke, Kealan Patrick - Thirty Miles South of Dry County (Delirium Books)
Faherty, JG - The Cold Spot (Delirium Books)
Giglio, Peter - Sunfall Manor (Nightscape Press)
Ketchum, Jack, and Lucky McGee - I'm Not Sam (Sinister Grin Press)
Malfi, Ronald - The Mourning House (Delirium Books)
McKinney, Joe, and Michael McCarty - Lost Girl of the Lake (Bad Moon Books)
Miskowski, S.P. - Delphine Dodd (Omnium Gatherum Media)
O'Neill, Gene - The Blue Heron (Dark Regions Press)
Prentiss, Norman - The Fleshless Man (Delirium Books)
Thompson, Lee - When We Join Jesus in Hell (Darkfuse)


Bailey, Michael - "Bootstrap" (Zippered Flesh: Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, Smart Rhino Publications)
Boston, Bruce - "Surrounded by the Mutant Rain Forest" (Daily Science Fiction)
Breaux, Kevin James - "The Journal of USS Indianapolis Survivor: Stefanos 'Stevie' Georgiou" (Zombie Jesus & Other True Stories, Dark Moon Books)
Cushing, Nicole - "A Catechism for Aspiring Amnesiacs" (Lovecraft eZine, March 2012)
Lake, Jay - "The Cancer Catechism" (Dark Faith: Invocations, Apex Book Company)
McKinney, Joe - "Bury My Heart at Marvin Gardens" (Best of Dark Moon Digest, Dark Moon Books)
Ochse, Weston - "Righteous" (Psychos, Black Dog and Leventhall Publication)
Palisano, John - "Available Light" (Lovecraft eZine, March 2012)
Snyder, Lucy - "Magdala Amygdala" (Dark Faith: Invocations, Apex Book Company)


Hill, Susan, and Goldman, Jane - The Woman in Black (Cross Creek Pictures)
Kim, San Kyu - The Walking Dead, "Killer Within" (AMC TV)
Minear, Tim - American Horror Story: Asylum, "Dark Cousin" (Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, Ryan Murphy Productions)
Olynyk, Signe - Below Zero (Twilight Pictures)
Ross, Gary, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray - The Hunger Games (Lionsgate, Color Force)
Sanchez, Eduardo, and Jaime Nash - Lovely Molly (Amber Entertainment, Haxan Films)
Whedon, Joss, and Drew Goddard - The Cabin in the Woods (Mutant Enemy Productions, Lionsgate)


Beebe, Eric - Fear the Abyss (Post Mortem Press)
Castle, Mort, and Sam Weller - Shadow Show (HarperCollins)
Gallows Press - Tales from the Yellow Rose Diner and Fill Station (Gallows Press)
Guignard, Eric J. - Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations (Dark Moon Books)
Miller, Eric - Hell Comes to Hollywood (Big Time Books)
Salter, Richard - World's Collider (Nightscape Press)
Scalisi, Patrick - The Ghost IS the Machine (Port Mortem Press)
Scioneaux, Mark C., R.J. Cavender, and Robert S. Wilson - Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology (Cutting Block Press)
Swanson, Stan - Slices of Flesh (Dark Moon Books)


Cain, Kenneth W. - These Old Tales: The Complete Collection (CreateSpace Distressed Press)
Carroll, Jonathan - Woman Who Married a Cloud: Collected Stories (Subterranean Press)
Castle, Mort - New Moon on the Water (Dark Regions)
De Winter, Corrine - Valentines for the Dead (Shadowfall Publications)
Hand, Elizabeth - Errantry: Strange Stories (Small Beer Press)
Hirshberg, Glen - The Janus Tree (Subterranean Press)
Lane, Joel - Where Furnaces Burn (PS Publishing)
LaSart, C.W. - Ad Nauseam (Dark Moon Books)
Oates, Joyce Carol - Black Dahlia and White Rose: Stories (Ecco)
Onspaugh, Mark - Christmas Ghost Stories (Createspace)
Yardley, Mercedes M. - Beautiful Sorrows (Shock Totem)


Aisenberg, Joe - Carrie: Studies in the Horror Film (Centipede Press)
Amazing Kreskin, The, and Michael McCarty - Conversations with Kreskin (Team Kreskin Productions LLC)
Collings, Michael - Writing Darkness (CreateSpace)
Klinger, Les - The Annotated Sandman, Volume 1 (Vertigo)
Matthews, Araminta Star, Rachel Lee, and Stan Swanson - Write of the Living Dead (Dark Moon Books)
Morton, Lisa - Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween (Reaktion Books)
Paffenroth, Kim, and John W. Morehead - The Undead and Theology (Pickwick Publications)
Perry, Dennis R., and Carl H. Sederholm - Adapting Poe: Re-Imaginings in Popular Culture (Palgrave MacMillan)
Phillips, Kendall R. - Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter, and the Modern Horror Film (Southern Illinois University Press)


Addison, Linda, and Stephen M. Wilson - Dark Duet (NECON eBooks)
Boston, Bruce, and Gary William Crawford - Notes from the Shadow City (Dark Regions Press)
Collings, Michael - A Verse to Horrors (Amazon Digital Services)
Dietrich, Bryan D. - The Monstrance (Needfire Poetry)
Ong Muslim, Kristina - Grim Series (Popcorn Press)
Simon, Marge, and Sandy DeLuca - Vampires, Zombies & Wanton Souls (Elektrik Milk Bath Press)
Turzillo, Mary A. - Lovers & Killers (Dark Regions)

The following will not appear on the Preliminary Ballot. As there are only
five works, they will proceed directly to the Final Ballot.


Bunn, Cullen - The Sixth Gun Volume 3: Bound (Oni Press)
Moore, Terry - Rachel Rising Vol. 1: The Shadow of Death (Abstract Studio)
Thornton, Ravi - The Tale of Brin and Bent and Minno Marylebone (Jonathan Cape)
Wacks, Peter J., and Guy Anthony De Marco - Behind These Eyes (Villainous Press)
Wood, Rocky, and Lisa Morton - Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times (McFarland)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

EVIL JESTER DIGEST VOL. 2: Behind the Stories, with Trent Zelazny, Gene O'Neill, Holly Newstein, Simon McCaffery, Mark Allan Gunnells, John Michael Kelley, Eric J. Guignard, and John Palisano

I still can't get over what an amazing year 2012 has been for me. I'm extremely grateful to everyone who has purchased my work, and for all the kind words and encouragement I've received along the way. 2012 saw the publication of two of my novels, two novellas, and two anthologies I edited. I made 2 professional fiction sales and had the honor of working as the editor of three remarkable novels: Inheritance by Joe McKinney, Seraphim by Jon Michael Kelley, and The Quarry by Mark Allan Gunnells. I also oversaw the production of more than a dozen fine books from Evil Jester Press, with a range of duties, including graphic design, formatting, proof-reading, contract negotiations, slush pile warrior, etc. What a year! I don't know if I can match that pace in 2013, or even if I should try, but I do know I'm in a far better place than I was in 2011, and I'm grateful to so many people.

I can think of no more fitting way to express that gratitude than to turn my blog over to 8 talented writers, all of whom have stories in Evil Jester Digest, Vol. 2, one of the projects I alluded to above. Working with these folks, and so many others, has been a special gift. So it is only fitting that I give a gift (courtesy of Evil Jester Press) to those of you reading my blog. Here it is...

The Amazon link to download Evil Jester Digest, Vol. 2 is here.
Included are 12 dark tales from masters and rising stars of genre fiction. It is our hope that you enjoy the book. Of course, Amazon and Goodreads reviews are appreciated, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth. But the most important thing is that you know how much we appreciate your consideration.

Without further ado, I would now like to turn the stage over to eight of the anthology's esteemed contributors. They have a few words to share about their stories.


Eric J. Guignard…

I try to write non-familiar monster trope pieces, but occasionally I like to slip back into the warm comfort of my favorite traditional horror genre: Zombies. The writing industry is glutted with zombie fiction, and I didn’t want to put out another gore-filled undead slasher. I wrote my story, “A Curse and a Kiss” with zombies taking more of an incidental or background role. The story itself is a variation of the fairytale “Beauty and the Beast,” told through the eyes of a servant. I have always been a lifelong fan of Grimms' Fairy Tales and Aesop's Fables. The original telling of “Beauty and the Beast” is much darker than the “Disney-fied” version, and I wanted to bring the story back to its original tone and message, though I changed the curse placed on the Prince to becoming transformed into the “Living Dead” rather than an animalistic beast.
(above) Eric J. Guignard and Gene O'Neill at KillerCon 2012

Gene O’Neill…

"Coyote Gambit" is the earliest of the Cal Wild stories. The series actually begins rolling with the introduction of the character, Karch, who is nicknamed the Armless Conductor. But this part of the series is actually quite along in time after The Collapse. So a novel down the road, The Confessions of St. Zach, will begin right after The Collapse and develop the early part of the series. But "Coyote Gambit" is the only immediate short story. The series really took form after I decided that we needed a modern argument of the philosophy underlying McCarthy's fine novel The Road. I like the book but don't agree with the writer's view of human nature in crisis. Cal Wild books and stories support my view of human nature. But "Coyote Gambit," especially the gruesome implication of the ending, is closer the harder edged view of The Road than my more humanistic beliefs. It's not a story for the faint hearted. 


Mark Allan Gunnells...


Let's face it, we're all addicted to technology. I certainly am. However, I also grew up in a time when no one had cell phones, there was no texting, no Facebook, no Instant Messaging. Therefore, as much as I love technology, I also feel I could live without it if I had to. However, when I look at young people today, kids that were born "plugged in" as it were, I wonder...could they survive if their technology was taken away? I decided I wanted to explore this in a story, and satire seemed the best way to go. Taking the idea and stretching it to an extreme and absurd to get my point across. I was happy with the result, hopefully readers will like it as well. 

(above) Mark Allan Gunnells, indulging his sweet tooth at any cost

Trent Zelazny…

Trent has two terrific stories in Evil Jester Digest, Vol. 2...
 Slink: Though in a contemporary setting, this was an attempt to write a story that might have hopefully been accepted and published by Black Mask, maybe in the forties, at some point before its decline and eventual demise.
Windows in the Wreckage: The story came to me after having a dream about being stranded in the woods. As I’m not a big camper or hiker these days, I asked myself, “How in the world would I get stranded in the woods? What would take me there, and what, in my own reality, would be something horrible I'd be terrified I might have to face?”
(left)The great Trent Zelazny ensconced in kitties!

Holly Newstein…

"Kristall Tag" had its genesis in what I learned about the fall of Berlin and the invading Russian Army. 

Berlin, when the Russians took it, was a city of women and children. The Russian soldiers were capable of great kindness—and terrible savagery. All Germans were tainted with Hitler's evil, even those who had no choice in the matter. The Russians wanted revenge for what the Nazi Army did to their countrymen. I wanted to explore the journey of one innocent in this maelstrom of death and brutality, and how her actions reverberated across the rest of her life. And because I am a horror writer as well as a history geek, there had to be a touch of the supernatural involved...

(above) Holly Newstein Hautala, Rick Hautala, and Peter Giglio
at World Horror 2012


Jon Michael Kelley…


“The Tardy Hand of Miss Tangerine” was inspired by a tattoo proclaiming an apocalyptic date that has, coincidentally enough, just passed. A few years ago, I’d been dragged to my first metaphysical fair, and it was there that I was introduced to the wearer of that prescient ink. She was a young woman, strikingly plain, who looked more like Beatrix Potter  than she did Helena Blavatsky. That was, until I saw that final Mayan calendar date running along the length of her lower right arm. At first glance, I’d initially thought it was a Bible verse. Silly me. You see, she was giving a rather expensive reading to my companion, so I had the opportunity to look again—and I then realized what that proverb was actually proclaiming. I passed on the Tarots, having by then decided that my money might be best spent buying freeze dried food, bottled water, and the blueprints to a bomb shelter made for two. Then a story started forming…
(above) Jon Michael Kelley at AnthoCon 2012


John Palisano…

What if there were a major outbreak happening in our sister country Mexico? How would we guard our borders? With what? Would we help, or just protect our own interests?
And if said outbreak had fangs, then what?
One young man discovers the illegal alien task force he's joined is just a cover, and that the border fence being constructed is crucial rather than just misguided patriotism.
With "VAMPIRO," playing with themes of xenophobia and self-loathing seemed interesting. Some have indicted the story as a simple comment that illegals are vampires. Take a bigger bite. There's more under the thin, translucent skin.
(above) John Palisano, Brad C. Hodson, Peter Giglio, and Eric Shapiro
at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, California. Should we start a band?

Simon McCaffery…

The genesis of "Vanishing Act" was an article I read in the mid-1990s about poor deluded Sarah Winchester and her bizarre Mystery House. Writers are almost always voracious readers, and there's an unconscious filter that is always sifting through everything for the kernel of a new tale, like a whale sucking in thousands of gallons of seawater for specks of zooplankton. (below) Simon McCaffery, working on his tan.

I was fascinated by the true story of an educated, wealthy, devout young woman whose mind is stripped and driven to such extremes by grief and a fear of the afterlife. I knew I wanted to weave it into a story, and I made a couple of poor attempts, but eventually set it aside. The vivid story of Sarah and her mad, marvelous house of many doors remained in my imagination. I also had toyed with a potential novella or novel about a desperate father searching for a vanished son, and the idea of certain very rare individuals capable of conjuring unseen doorways between worlds, driven by an intense desire to escape from unhappy lives or relentless will to be reunited with the lost. And these ideas finally collided, with the resulting story.

I'm thrilled that it worked for Peter and the Evil Jester Press crew, and proud to appear among so many talented writers I admire. The human heart is a funny thing, and fear and obsession can lodge there and grow like dark cancers. And how many doors do we open and pass through in a lifetime, without a second thought? 


Saturday, December 22, 2012

FINDING BALANCE -- My zombie novella gets a facelift

After selling my first story to a professional anthology, I said to myself, “Man, this being-a-writer thing isn’t so tough!”

I was wrong. Oh, how I was wrong!

Not only did I have a hard time finding inspiration in the ensuing months, I found it even harder to sell the few stories I did write. I was frustrated. Having learned a few things about the biz now I see what a baby I was being. But in that moment, I was sure my first fiction sale had been a fluke and that I would never publish another word.

During this time I wrote a short story that I liked—that I still like—about a strange creature who encounters a young girl held captive in a cellar. It was called “Reaching for the Light.” And the title expressed exactly how I felt.

It didn’t sell.

But, for some reason, I couldn’t shake the image of the girl in the cellar. I wanted to do something different with this cliché and thought there was a deeper story to be told than the ones I’d read or seen in movies.

Sometime later I started writing a story aimed at Robert Essig’s Through the Eyes of the Undead II. And I did something that I was pretty sure hadn’t been done before; I made the girl in the cellar a zombie.

The story was called “Half Life” originally and, for the most part, it's the finale of what would later become Balance.

And, damn, I was proud of that story.

In fact, I loved it!

So I sent it off to every friend I could think of who might want to read it. And many of them did.

It got a flurry of great responses, but with one consistent bit of criticism.

It needed to be longer. Everyone wanted to know what The Blast was. And everyone wanted to know more about the human relationships in the tale.

I was just glad they liked the story, so I sent it off to Robert. And he liked it, too. It looked like my short story might be accepted and my dry spell would come to an end.

But in the weeks that followed, the feedback I had received from trusted friends rang through my head.

So I pulled up the story. Reread it a dozen times.

Damn it...

They’d all been right.

So I expanded “Half Life” into a novella called The Blast, pulled my story from Robert’s short-list, worried I’d lost my mind, and sent the new draft to Eric Shapiro, the most trusted of my readers and the person who’d given “Half Life” the biggest thumbs up. Eric was surely going to love this new, expanded version of a story he’d praised. I was on my way to becoming the master of the macabre... Delusions bloomed eternal on that day, my friends.

A few days later, I opened an email from Eric. I was excited and couldn’t wait to hear how great I was.

I read his email and my jaw dropped.

He didn’t think The Blast was so hot. He didn’t hate it, but he didn’t think it would resonate with readers or, for that matter, be published at all.

Though surprised, I made one of the best moves of my life. And writers, whether you’re just starting out or have been doing this for decades, this is what we all need to do in these situations. Every time!

I asked him what was wrong with it. I asked him for details. I asked for help.

And he gave me what I asked for. And then his wonderful wife, Rhoda, read an improved version of the story and she gave me even more feedback.

So I fixed the story. And then I fixed it some more. Then…Well, you get the idea. I just kept fixing it until everyone—and by everyone I mean Eric and Rhoda (two of the most wonderful people on the planet)—loved it!

Then Eric gave me one last piece of advice. He told me The Blast sucked as a title. I asked him how bad it sucked, and he told me it sucked big. Really big!

I love my honest friends. If you’re one of those friends who tells me what I want to hear, stop now! Unless I look really needy at the moment, if you want me to love you more, tell me what you really think.

I came up with Balance. And the moment that title entered my mind, I knew I had it. Why hadn’t I thought of it sooner? I now can’t imagine this story ever being called anything else, but when you’re really close to something, it’s easy to be blind.

Eric and Rhoda agreed with the title.

And so Balance was born.

Special thanks go to Eric Shapiro and Rhoda Jordan. They’re busy people—making movies, writing books, building a family—and they certainly didn’t have to take time out to help me. But they did. And I’m forever in their debt.

I learned a lot working with them. I learned to give a little more.

I sold Balance to an epublisher in early 2011. The eBook is still with them, but they didn't buy print rights. In early 2012 the paperback edition was released with Evil Jester Press. Though the few people who have read this novella have given it its share of praise, the book has never found a wide audience. It is, in fact, my worst selling title. Though I'm not known as one who writes a lot of zombie fiction, I found that surprising for a long time.
Then I took a look at the cover. Really looked at it. Hard.

And I remembered what Eric told me about my original title.
That title sucked, and so did the cover on the paperback edition of Balance.
So Balance just got a facelift. At least the paperback did. Much as I'd like this cover to be on the eBook (I do love it), I have no control over that.

One more thing: The paperback contains an introduction by Eric Shapiro and "Reaching for the Light" is included as a bonus story. You won't find these things in the eBook.

You can purchase the paperback of Balance at for only $8.95 here.
Praise for Balance
"Balance is a grim and melancholy zombie story. Peter Giglio brings his A-game to this disturbing tale." - Jonathan Maberry, author of Dead of Night and Dust & Decay
"A harrowing new perspective on the apocalypse. Giglio goes for the heart as well as the jugular." - David Dunwoody, author of Empire and The Harvest Cycle

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joe McKinney, Peter N. Dudar, and Peter Giglio: The "Blogging the Ghost" Guys Return with Special Holiday Presents for You!

Joe McKinney, Peter N. Dudar, and Yours Truly mounted a successful series of blog posts back in September called "Blogging the Ghost." We talked about our new paranormal horror titles, shared free stories, gave away some prizes, and invited some pretty cool folks along for the ride. 
Now we're back, sharing essays about the writing life, wishing you all a safe and warm holiday season...and we even brought some presents! 
If you missed our previous posts, please check them out at the following links: 
Week 1:  Click here
Week 2: Click here
Week 3: Click here
Now for the presents!
Amazon links to these titles:
Inheritance: Click here
Sunfall Manor: Click here
A Requiem for Dead Flies: Click here
We hope you enjoy these titles. And for the many folks who supported our efforts in 2012, thank you.

Why I Write the Dark Stuff

By Joe McKinney

In my day job I’m a patrol supervisor for the San Antonio Police Department, working the west side of town.  The police officers who make the calls, who make the arrests, who keep the peace in the busiest part of the city, they work for me.  I’m the one they call when they have crime scenes that need managing, or when something just doesn’t look right.

What that means is that I have to see a lot of dead bodies.  And I mean a lot of them.

Like last week.  One of my officers called because he had a decomp (police parlance for a body that’s been rotting in place for a good long while) and he wasn’t sure if it was suicide or homicide.  So I showed up to the apartment and there was the dead guy, seated on the floor (or almost on the floor; his butt was about two inches off the carpet).  He had a noose around his neck, though you could barely see it because his skin was so bloated and gummy with rot that it had sort of oozed over the rope.

“So, what do you think?” the officer asked.

“Suicide,” I told him.

“But he’s sitting down.  Wouldn’t he have rolled over or something when he started to choke?  That’s like an instinct or something, isn’t it?”

“No,” I said.  “What you’re looking at is an act of will power.  If you want to do something bad enough, you’ll see it through.”

He looked from me to the body and shook his head.

“Besides,” I added, “look at all that medication in there in his bathroom.  Those drugs are for hepatitis and cancer.  He did this because he was hurting pretty bad.  And look up there.”  I pointed to the ceiling where our dead guy had nailed the rope to the rafter.  “He did that because he didn’t want the rope to slip off.  And look at where he chose to do this, here in the bedroom, so his relatives coming in the front door wouldn’t have to see him.  I bet if you look around here you’ll find a note.  Probably in the other room, out of sight of the bedroom.”

The officer nodded.

We both stood there, staring at the body.  The apartment didn’t have air conditioning, and it felt like standing inside an oven, even though it was the middle of the night.  The smell was really bad.

The officer kind of chuckled and said, “So Sarge, I guess this is one for your next book, huh?”

I offered him a bland smile.  Cops develop their gallows humor long before they learn that it’s actually a defense mechanism against the horror of confronting your own mortality, and this officer was one of the young ones.  He still had a lot to learn.

“Go look for the note,” I said.

“Yes, sir.”

When he was gone I found myself looking into that suicide’s face and sighing.  The suicides always get to me. Something about standing in the presence of someone so desperate to take control of their pain and their emotional devastation that they would resort to this makes me feel numb.

In the other room, the young officer was clumsily knocking around.  Something fell over and broke.  I almost called out to him to be careful, but held my tongue.  You see, my mind had drifted from my day job to my night job.  I was thinking about what he’d said about my next book.  So many people seem to have that opinion about horror, and about zombie fiction in particular.  To them, a book about shambling dead things eating the living must be nothing but gratuitous violence and gore.  What else could it be?

Well, I take exception to that.

I started writing because I was scared of the future.  My wife and I had just gotten married.  Then we had a daughter, and the world suddenly seemed so much more complex.  In the wink of an eye, I went from a carefree young cop – a lot like the one in the other room knocking stuff over – to a man with more responsibilities than he could count.  I had obligations and commitments coming at me from every angle.

I’d been writing stories for a good long while at that point, starting sometime in my early teens, but never with the intention of doing anything about them.  I would write them out on a yellow legal pad, staple the finished pages together, and leave them on the corner of my desk until the next idea came to me.

Never once did it occur to me to do something with what I’d written.  I just threw those stories away and forgot them.  But then came adulthood, and parenthood, and I found myself groping to put the world in order, to regain some of the control I felt I had lost.  I realized that writing could help me with that.  I realized that I could focus my anxieties and make something useful of them.

And so I started writing a science fiction novel.  It was a big space opera epic, and it was pure trash.  Every word of it was awful.

The reason?  Well, it wasn’t authentic.  It wasn’t me.

The real me, the kid who sat at his desk filling up yellow legal pads rather than going out bike riding with his friends, was a horror junkie.  I was crazy for the stuff.  Horror was my first literary love, and I figured seeing as love was what drove me to return to writing that I should write what I love. I was feeling like the world was rushing at me from every side, so I wrote a zombie story about characters who had the living dead rushing in at them from every side.  That’s when things started to click.  That’s when it all made sense.

But it wasn’t just that simple.  You see, I sincerely believe that fear is the most authentic, and the most useful, emotion available to the storyteller.  It is as vital as love, and indeed, gives love its profundity, for what makes love, and family, and everything we treasure so valuable but the fear that it could all be taken away in the blink of an eye.  For me, fear goes far beyond monsters.  It is the catalyst for my creative process, and without that creative process, I’m afraid I would wither up inside.  I’m not saying I’d end up like that suicide I just told you about if I couldn’t write anymore, nothing that melodramatic, but absence of that creative outlet would be a hole that nothing else could fill.

So that’s why I write the dark stuff.



In the Name of Love

By Peter Giglio


“Why do you write horror?”

That’s a valid question, and one I’ve answered more times than I care to count. I’ve prattled on endlessly about how horror fiction lends itself to socially relevant metaphors, how being in tune with darkness can put one more in touch with light, how horror is the perfect canvas on which to paint conflict.

Blah, blah, blah…

What I’d rather explore (briefly, I promise) is why I write, and I’d also like to offer my perspective on the fine line between genre fiction and general fiction, that lauded non-brand that tells potential readers, “Hey, this work isn’t pulp; you can read this without guilt, and it will make you feel smarter.”

Okay, I’m probably projecting a bit. I don’t know if it really says all that, but it often feels like it. After all, Stephen King and Anne Rice and Dean Koontz, though they write great genre fiction, don’t have to languish in such confines. Their tomes aren’t branded horror; rather, they’re shelved as fiction despite the recognizable tropes within their worlds. People who routinely say, “I don’t read horror,” will frequently admit to reading King. That’s my experience, at least.

Writers like King are essentially their own brand, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Most of the time, they’ve earned the stature. King often tries to shake his literary credentials off, but he isn’t fooling me. He worked hard for his reputation, and I love his work deeply. Go, Steve! Go!

So I’m not here with sour grapes. In fact, I get pissed when people attack success. Regardless of what you or I may think of work from James Patterson or Stephanie Meyer, people read them, and any author who’s being honest will admit to envying the audience these icons have captured. Captured? Wow, that makes the whole thing sound nefarious. I like that. I also like that there are still examples of success in a crumbling market. Glimmers of hope.

That said, I can report with all honesty that I don’t write for fame. I laugh at friends and family members who call me famous. I’m not. Not even close. Most of my heroes, in fact—my mentors, the people I aspire to—aren’t even famous.

Strangers get this.

When I tell them I’m a writer, the first question is usually, “What do you write?” If I reply, “Horror,” they’ll often ask, “Like Stephen King?” and that just makes me want to test them a little. “No,” I might say, “like Richard Laymon.” Or I’ll throw out some other midlist name just to see if confusion sweeps their face.

And it does.

Fact is, midlist writers in any corner of genre fiction (though heroes to devotees of that particular brand) don’t mean shit to the average person at your local pub or bank or grocery store or…wherever you meet people. And if you, like me, aspire to those midlist heroes who write from the heart and gut, that realization can shatter your resolve.

Despite all that, I write because I respect the written word. I write because I want to articulate my feelings through stories. I write because I love the process of creation. I love what I learn about myself and the world around me.  

And, most importantly, I love good stories and storytellers.

My advice: Aspire to be what you love.

If you love money, go into banking. If you love stories, write. If you make money writing, congratulations—you’re a professional. Just remember, professionals in most fields aren’t wealthy or well-known. If you happen to make big money doing it, you’re part of a rare and endangered breed: someone who has their calls returned by Stephen King.  

As a reader, I don’t care if your story is horror or romance or a thriller or a literary coming-of-age tale; if it hooks me in the first page, I’ll read more. If it holds me in its grip, I’ll recommend it to anyone willing to pay attention. I don’t care if you have a contract with a Big Six publisher, a small press, or if you self-publish (as long as you hire a good editor!).

A good story is a good story, and I enjoy building them the same way, I assume, a skilled carpenter enjoys building a fine deck.

Genre is essentially a way of keeping all the shelves at a bookstore (and the Amazon website) organized. It’s also a way of marketing: “If you like this, you’ll enjoy this!” The business side of me gets this and respects it. But that’s only half of me.

The reader and writer in me browses every section of a bookstore and every corner of a website that sells books, ‘cause he just respects a good story.

That’s the side of me I love.

And that’s why I write.



Drinking from the Poisoned Well

By Peter N. Dudar


A brief anecdote; one that I often like to tell to illustrate the insanity of writing.


I began my writing career after I graduated from college and moved to Maine.  Those first few years were a period of great fecundity for me, regardless of the fact that most of the short stories I was producing were amateur at best, and at worst downright shoddy and formulaic.  And when that productive period ran out, I went through a horrible period of writer’s block, which left me all but crippled.  As time dragged by and nothing came out of me after countless hours of staring at a blank computer screen, I decided that I needed to do something.

I found a creative writing course through Portland’s Adult Education program, and even though I’d graduated from college a few years before with a bachelor’s degree, I felt that perhaps this would be the skeleton key to unlock my chained and hidden muse.  So I signed myself up and, just like that, I found myself in an elementary school classroom on Tuesday evenings with a bunch of other writers whom also yearned to express themselves with the written word. 

I’ll never forget that first class for as long as I live.

I made my way in and examined the room.  All the desks inside had been rearranged to form this great big circle, with the teacher’s desk front-and-center astride the blackboard.  Many people had arrived before me and a lot of the desks were already filled, so I glanced about and found an empty spot.  As I sat down I noticed my neighbor to my immediate left; a woman with crazy hair subdued with colorful scarfs, a pair of eyeglasses with thick rims and leopard skin-colored tipples, and necklaces with beads and jewels that weighed her frame down like an anchor.  I knew even before I set my pen down and opened my notebook that sitting next to this person was a bad idea.  And I was right.

Our teacher came in and introduced herself, and then asked us to go around the room and introduce ourselves and talk a little bit about why we enjoy writing.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?  Sure, you can!

I listen to all the people around the circle introduce themselves, each giving some informal speech about their craft; some telling of the joy of simple things like journaling for historical purposes, others finding delight in poetry or prose, or what have you.  One lady mentioned how she started writing by first making up bedtime stories for her kids, and then deciding to write them down so that her kids could one day share them with their children.  It’s cool.  But all the while, I’m looking at this psychotic broad beside me, who has been wriggling and itching and dying for it to be her turn.  I’m suddenly sure that I don’t want to follow this lady, that maybe I’ll just excuse myself and run to the bathroom…and maybe even NOT come back.  But I don’t.  I bide my time.

And then it’s the crazy lady’s turn.

This woman stands up and introduces herself, and then embarks on this long stream-of-consciousness tirade of how life has been so cruel to her, and that she “writes herself sane” to keep her poor brain for revolting against her.  We get to hear every little misery this woman has endured (who knows how many of them were fictitious?) and how writing has saved her life, and blah-blah-blee-blah.  By now half the class is wriggling and itching with awkwardness and discomfort, and that’s including myself.  I really don’t want to go next, and have to follow up after crazy lady and how her five cats died in a fire and her twin sister was raped by an orangutan in a freak zoo incident (okay, maybe I made that last part up, but only because I’ve mentally blocked out her real stories in my bid to rid her from my brain).

Finally, crazy lady sits down, and it’s my turn.

“My name is Peter,” I begin.  “I write because I enjoy making shit up.”  (The class chuckles) “I signed up for this class mostly because I’m trying to work through writer’s block.  I guess I just don’t have a lot of difficulties in my life, or inner demons I need to face, which is probably a good thing.  I have to believe, though, that if I did have a lot of problems, I would be better suited if I went to the doctor and got some medication.” 

More laughter…except from crazy lady, who looks absolutely flabbergasted.  I can tell I’ve insulted her, but part of me really doesn’t care.  I’ve created conflict, and conflict is good.  It’s inspiring. For both of us. 

Looking back now, I can see where I was wrong in my behavior.  I was young and cocky back then, and I didn’t really know shit about having anxiety or coping with the possibility of bad health or mental illness.  And, of course, I can see now where the notion of “writing oneself sane,” is possibly one of the sanest things a writer could do.  After all, writers deal with telling lies, but those lies spring forth from truths that we all know and experience.  You can’t write perfectly about a loved one dying until you stood next to their coffin and gazed at the waxy remains of them, and realizing that the lifeless thing you are saying goodbye to looks nothing like the person you knew when they were still alive.  You can’t write perfectly about love until you’ve had your heart broken, when you can still smell the scent of your lover on your pillow as you lay your head down to sleep at night, and then wake up sobbing in the morning because you know she isn’t coming back.  Then, when you put these experiences into words, someone who has also suffered can read them and find empathy.  They can make that connection.

Writers are haunted people.  We’re held prisoner by the voices of stories that want to be written.  We’re slaves to an inner thirst for information and experience just so we can find the right words to tell our stories.  And for the horror writer, this information and experience we thirst for is not glamorous or pretty, and by no means is it safe.   The well we drink from has poisoned water.  One needs to look no further than Edgar Allan Poe to see how his mastery at storytelling is precluded by his own personal miseries. 

And what of the “ghost writer?”  What of those folks (present company included) who long to pen the perfect ghost story?  What are the experiences they seek out to gain knowledge and find the right words?

I think for each of us, it begins with the notion of an afterlife; what awaits us when we die?  Ghosts are the spiritual remnants of a human being whose body is no longer alive and whose soul no longer has a vessel to travel in.  Which begs next these three logical questions:  1) Where is the soul supposed to go?  2)  What is holding the soul captive, so that it can’t or won’t move on?  And 3) How are we, the living, to deal with the ghost when we encounter it?

The spiritual part of us (at least in our minds), looks to religion and philosophy to begin sorting these concepts out and come to our own unique belief system.  The rational part of us seeks books or articles or essays about the act of dying and how the body shuts down.  But the writer in us…how far are we willing to go?

Here’s the Bucket List for the ghost writer:

Attend a séance.  Be present at the death of a loved one.  Spend a night in a haunted house/hotel/mental institution.  Take photographs in a cemetery.  Take video/audio recordings of supernatural activities.  Leave flour/powder on the floor to capture ghost prints.  Play with a(n) Ouija board.  Take mind-altering substances to try and commune with the dead.  Dress in dead people’s clothing or procure their personal belongings.  Build a shrine or altar for the dead.  Have a Tarot or psychic reading performed.  Visit historical places where mass murders or suicides occurred. Visit the graves of horror authors.  Learn about local folklore and urban legends.  Place ourselves in instances of mortal danger.  And, above all, read more ghost stories.

As I’ve said, the well we drink from is poisoned.  We seek to fill our minds with dark thoughts and notions.  I think this is probably why horror writers are also some of the nicest, friendliest people you will ever meet.  It’s because we know how to value and celebrate life.  It’s because we know how to “write ourselves sane.”