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Alive in 2018

I originally called this last of my year-end posts “Alive in…” because honestly I couldn’t think of a more general or truthful way to labeling the intention of these posts: “I was alive in 20XX and here’s what I saw.” That’s the way it’s seemed to me in the past.
I had a tough year in 2018 but I survived. There are many, many things that happened that made this year difficult but I’m still alive and I hope for a better 2019.

I guess I’ll start at the top. As many of you already know, I’m getting divorced early next year. Lauren and I have gone through rough patches before but at some point this year it became apparent to both of us that we were trying very hard to keep something going that was making us both miserable.

So, in the next few months I will be: selling my house, filing a lot paperwork, transitioning to some other living situation, and figuring out where to go next. In part, although this has been incredibly difficult and I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do, the hard pa…

What I Read in 2018

For my third year-end wrap-up blogpost, I’m going to share the things I’m most glad I read this year. In previous editions to this post, I’ve focused on novels and short stories I read that were published in that calendar year. I’m going to have to have to do something a little different this time.

In years past, one of the motivating factors pushing me to read current writing was my own desire to update and broaden my own writing skills. I wanted to see what was out there and who was writing stuff I wanted to read.

This year I have been involved in this longer project which has changed my focus to a lot of mythology and non-fiction books. I’ve read some books released this year but rather than rank them separately I’ll fold them into what left a mark - literary-wise - this year.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander. A couple years back Uncanny Magazine published Bolander’s “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” which was one of the most savage and funny take-downs of a sub-genre …

What I Saw in 2018

To continue my year-end best-of list, I’ll next move to movies that I really enjoyed this year. As usual, this is not a list meant to be what I think had the highest artistic merit of all movies released this year. I watch a lot of movies but I don’t watch nearly enough to be able to make a statement that sweeping. These are movies I liked a lot and I continued to think about for the rest of the year (however long that might be at this point).
#5: Annihilation. I honestly didn’t think this was going to wind up so far down my list (number-wise). I loved the book this movie is loosely based upon by Jeff Vandermeer, and think that in terms of capturing the mood and translating the basic idea of the story for a wider audience this movie does an incredible job. It is a beautiful, awe-inspiring cerebral science fiction and damn unsettling to boot. It’s not at the top of this list because ultimately it didn’t seize my imagination or hit me with a hammer blow of feelings like some of the other…

What I Heard in 2018

It’s about that time of year again. Today I’m going to list my favorite five albums I heard this year. In terms of music, I wasn’t blown-away by much released this year. Most of what I bought were albums released ten or even twenty years ago. I wouldn’t classify this as nostalgia because what I was listening to wasn’t really what I was listening to at that time. Nevertheless it was a shift from last year which I thought was an excellent year for new music. That said my favorite release this year is one of my favorite albums in quite some time.
#5) Be the Cowboy by Mitski: Propulsive, poignant electro-pop with a lead singer who seems to narrating, moment by moment the day she realized she had the ability to survive everything weighing her down. Survive, that is, if she did everything exactly the way she needed to. This is album composed of highly danceable anthems to self-possession and there’s not a single track that doesn’t contain some moment of cataclysmic heart-break set to a memor…

Situation in Doubt

Although I regularly attend a variety of conventions around New England, Arisia has always felt the closest to 'home.' It's the convention that the vast majority of my close friends attend, the first con to give me panelist spots, and the first con I started volunteering for. I haven't made as big a deal about this on this blog as I might have, but I became the Writing Track Manager for Arisia over the summer. This represents a great deal of work, some really cool opportunities, and another way, I figured, to give back to the community that meant so much to me.I invited fellow writers who I wanted to see on panels I wrote. I reached out to friends who had not attended in a while to see if they might want to attend this year. I did my best to create the best damn writing track that's ever been put on at Arisia.

And last Thursday all that fell apart.

I absolutely believe Crystal Huff, Maura Taylor, and all of the other accounts of rape and abuse occurring in the Arisia…

Resignation from Arisia

After the events of this weekend, I have resigned as the Writing track manager for Arisia, Inc. 2019. I feel a profound sense of loss and disappointment for a community that has been an important part of my life for several years but no longer feels safe to me.

I will say more about this when I feel the time is right. At the moment I just feel defeated.

Short Take Reviews for October 2018

I'm going to try to collect together a random assemblage of things I've been reading recently. As usual my interest falls on things I enjoyed rather than things I didn't. For the most part, reviews are for me a way to process what I'm experiencing for my own endeavors. That said, the world is full of movies, television shows, novels, songs, and short stories that I wager some have never heard of. For that reason, I hope you might find some value in these write-ups.
Joy as and Act of Resistance by IDLES. I bought the IDLES other album after seeing it still mentioned in music review sites months after its release. With acerbic, strangely jubliant song shards like Stendhal Syndrome and White Privilege, this album worked an unexpected magic upon me. I found my self growing increasingly taken by the juxtaposition of harsh art-punk songs overlaid by singer Joe Talbot's sing-shout anthems. Joy as an Act of Resistance is the same as Brutalism only more so (if that makes sen…

Review of "Rust Maidens" by Gwendolyn Kiste

The problem with mirrors is when you don't like what you see, you have to wonder if it's the mirror's fault or yours.

Gwendolyne Kiste's debut novel "Rust Maidens" mentions mirrors directly only a handful of times, and yet I was struck by the idea of reflections as a motif in the novel. Whether opaque, chrome, or clear as day, the figures of this story lurch forward in a funhouse gauntlet of perception and twisted perspective.

Phoebe Shaw returns to her Ohio hometown to confront the regrets and horrors of her childhood. Nearly thirty years prior, the young women of her neighborhood exhibited a terrible affliction. The eponymous 'Rust Maidens' are a group of five women who during the course of the summer of 1980, transform into phantoms of urban decay. Their skin puckers and peels, rusted metal bits poke out from the corners of their bodies, and nails change to jagged shards of glass.

The cause for this transformation and its effects are described with…

Story announcement and notes for "The Emissary"

My short story "Emissary" is now available over at Selene Quarterly Magazine. This is set in a post-apocalyptic Upstate New York beset by invaders from the West bent on conquering and enslaving whatever remains of civilization. In the face of this nightmare, a woman with very little faith in anyone around her tries to find someway of saving her town. Standing in her way is her husband, Jon Alban, a man she has every reason to doubt but that nevertheless might offer a way out of the crisis despite himself.
This story was written at the intersection of two ideas. The first was the sense of the main character, Darra, as a someone focused on saving a town she has very little faith in. The second idea was a retelling of a portion of Russian history.
Darra as a character was tricky to write and while I'm not sure I quite got her right, I do hope that her struggle to the right thing despite a Cassandra-like awareness of the weakness surrounding her is at least interesting. I thin…

Story Notes for "Ghost Notes"

This week my story, "Ghost Notes" appeared on the Dime Show Review website. Ghost Notes is one of a handful of contemporary fiction pieces I've written and only the third to be published. 
The story was easy to write in some respects. While not fully autobiographical, the incidents described in the story exist with unusual clarity within in my mind. The version you can read is not all that different in broad strokes from the first draft. That is definitely not always the case with my writing.
What do I think this story means? At heart, I think growing up means finding room to grow. Something has to be displaced in order for an individual to find enough space to find themselves. The character in this story finds himself in a very claustrophobic situation,  approaching the start of college with a sense of its possibilities without quite being able to imagine a world outside of the confines of his childhood room. I'm not sure if the ending is a happy ending for him or cas…

My story "Ghost Notes" now available at Dime Show Review

I am pleased to announce my story "Ghost Notes" is now available at the Dime Show Review, free online to read!

Despite the title, this is represents a bit of a change of pace from other stories recently published, as it contains far more youthful nostalgia and guitar playing than my usual monsters and robots. It is one of my favorite stories I've ever written and I hope you give it a try. While there, give the other stories at Dime Show a chance - they are fantastic!

Thank you to Kae Sable for choosing this story!

I will be putting together an author's notes post in the near future.


Addressed to Speculation

Dear J,

This is my third and final letter to you. You haven't replied to any of my previous messages and while I didn't expect you to, I think my desire to reach out to you has run its course. Perhaps not soon enough for your taste, but there it is.

My intention in writing to you was never to hector or convince you of anything. The course you have taken with your writing is your own and, frankly, I celebrate it. Rather, it was my hope that we could have extended our conversation after that one meeting.

Those who know far more than I about literary critique have cautioned of the perils in assuming intention in the work of others but nevertheless I cannot but help read some echo of our brief conversation in some of your current work. Perhaps a certain perversity or even an obstinate disregard animated your recent writing. Perhaps this is hubris but your use of a certain style in recent stories suggests you have also placed some thought into what we discussed.

If that is the case, I…

Post-Arisia 2018 Report

I think this was one of my favorite Arisias. First off, I had a bunch of panels, including a reading panel. That's always fun. In addition, all of the panels I went to were interesting, well-run, and gave me a lot to think about. I can only hope that my own contributions to Arisia were as worthwhile to the audience.

I certainly had my fill of stimulating conversations. As always, this convention gives me that singular chance to catch up with both friends and the state of SFF in general. I was happy to catch up with Matt, Alex, John, and Melanie, as well as Wendee and Dan. I got to see a few familiar faces from the con circuit: Gillian Daniels, Andrea Corbin, and Gillian Daniels and I met a bunch of awesome writers and reviewers. I even got in a great session of RPG, playing Masks, a superhero RPG powered by the Apocalypse. I was happy to see the Indie Expo return to the con even though the offerings were some what slim this year. 

A few thoughts on the panels I participated on:

Writ…

We Have Always Lived in Haunted Houses

As my final pre-Arisia post, I'd like to tackle ghosts. Metaphorically, of course, because ghosts are intangible and also don't exist. 


I don't believe in ghosts. Not the sort of ghosts, anyway, that float around decaying old mansions or scare impressionable media personalities. Physics, at least the way I've grown up understanding it, precludes the existence of energy that cannot be detected reliably. Put another way, physicist Brian Cox stated that if ghosts existed the Large Hadron Collider would have almost certainly found one by now.

So, when I say I'm a fan of ghost stories and tales of haunted houses, am I being hypocritical? Possibly, but I also think one can appreciate ghosts and haunted houses in a different way. Even though they might not exist in a 'peer-reviewed' and 'experimentally replicable' fashion, phantoms absolutely exist as a potent symbol of the past.

When we talk about ghosts what we're really talking about is that annoying…

Writing for Emotional Impact

In addition to a panel on writing horror, macabre, and supernatural tales, for Arisia 2018, I'm also in a panel entitled "Emotional Impact - Making Readers Care!"


Assuming for a moment I've written stories containing characters readers care about, what advice could I give to aspiring writers?
To repeat a bit from last post, my big three pieces of advice are rather simple and self-evident:
Read EverythingWrite as Much as PossibleReflect on Your Art To paraphrase from the previous writing advice post, read everything simply means an aspiring writer must first be a diligent reader. You must be a fan of those books generating a strong emotional response.

As you begin to figure out what you like and don't like in stories and other types of literature, begin to write. I do not think you need to write every single day to be a writer. I also don't think you somehow stop being a writer if you put down the pen (so to speak) for a day, week, year, or decade. However, like a…

Updated Schedule for Arisia 2018

Next week is Arisia 2018 and I'm on a few panels you might be interested in. In addition to my first couple of writing panels, I'll be joining in conversations about ghosts, haunted houses, and Steven King. If you find yourself at the convention, please consider stopping by!

In order of occurrence with location, time, participants and brief panel description:

Writing Horror, the Occult, and the Macabre 
Bulfinch (3W), 8:30pm - 9:45pm Chris Philbrook (moderator), Hillary Monahan, Tom Deady, Douglas Wynne, Morgan Crooks From the revival of Stephen King's dark fantasy series 'The Gunslinger' to long-running post-apocalyptic dramas such as 'The Walking Dead,' horror is hot ... it just lurks under different names. Come learn how to use the horror conventions to ramp up suspense, weave the supernatural into your stories, use real-life elements to prey upon your audience's fears, and how you can create your OWN dark and edgy worlds where no character is safe and …

Writing Horror

I'm wary offering advice to other writers. 

First of all I've got the whole imposter syndrome thing and whatever advice I give feels like a good way of revealing how little I know about anything. Second, what I've learned mostly relates to solving problems in my own writing. What advice does a dog have to offer to a duck on how to swim? 
However, for Arisia 2018, I'll be participating on a panel of doing just that - giving advice to aspiring horror writers about writing horror.

So, what truths can I impart?

Some advice feels absolutely true, if a bit self-evident.

You must read. If you're trying to write horror then you must read horror. Not just one novel. Not just one author. You should make a sincere effort to read everything by everyone. The more recent the better. The classics are always going to be there, but if you want a sense of where your stories could fit, you need to see what is being published out there.

You must write. I do not think you have to write …