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Captain America…Eff Yeah!

So, if you haven’t gleaned it yet, I am a big comic book fan.  I don’t read or collect them anymore, but they were a solid foundation of my childhood, and I have a huge soft spot for the characters I loved back then–Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, The Vision, The Thing, The Human Torch, The Sub-Mariner, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Wolverine, Colossus…and, of course, Captain America.

Every time Marvel unleashes a new movie, my inner 10-year-old squeals with delight.  Back then, I was happy with my comics and the occasional Mego action figure.  Now, sheesh…what a great period of time to be a kid with all the Marvel stuff out there.

Anyway, next year is a crazy film year–Star Trek: Beyond, Batman VS Superman, Dr. Strange and Captain America: Civil War.  And here’s the first trailer.  Looks awesome.

I’m in The Best of Grey Matter Press Vol. 1…Twice!


Grey Matter Press, that smart, swanky publisher up in the far northern wilds of Chicago, just announced some of its 2016 schedule and believe me, it’s a doozy.  And keep in mind, this is just the stuff they can announce right now–still in 2015.  I guarantee you that there is much more afoot.

The first book on GMP’s 2016 agenda is the aptly named DREAD: The Best of Grey Matter Press Vol. 1.  This collection will be published in the Spring, and will feature stories taken from GMP’s first volley of anthologies:  Dark Visions Vol. 1, Splatterlands, Ominous Realities, Dark Visions Vol. 2, and Equilibrium Overturned.  But here’s the pretty neat part.  GMP didn’t select the stories featured in DREAD–just 20 stories from the 70 published in these five volumes.  Readers did.  Readers voted for their favorites from these anthologies, and those are the 20 stories that appear in this Best Of… volume.

OK, here’s the pretty neat part, part deux.  I have two, count ’em, two stories in this book.  So, of the 20 stories selected for DREAD, readers voted two of my stories–“Show Me” from Dark Visions Vol. 1 and “Angie” from Ominous Realities–as “best of” from the 70 possible stories.  That’s awesome…at least I think so.  Only one other author, the remarkable Ray Garton, has two stories in this collection.  That’s some damn good company to be in.

GMP also announced its first novel, John Foster’s thrilling Mr. White (I’ve read it…it’s fantastic!), the big-name antho Peeling Back the Skin, and hinted at a host of other novels and novellas to come.

Also they announced I Can Taste the Blood, the shared-world (sort of) novella collection featuring me, Joe Schwartz (his new book, STABCO, is a fantastic read), Erik T. Johnson (he’s up  to something new, I understand), J. Daniel Stone (get his new novel, Blood Kiss, soon from Villipede.  I read it, too, and it’s moody and awesome) and the peripatetic Josh Malerman (second blockbuster on its way).  More on I Can Taste the Blood later…but I can promise you, this collection is gonna blow you away.

Anyway, go here to read GMP’s full release and watch for more news soon.  And, for the love of all that’s holy and unholy, support the independent press.  Support the people who are putting out some of the best dark speculative fiction available…and for the most part, it ain’t the big press.  Publishers like GMP, who work hard to bring you the very best authors and fiction out there, deserve your support, especially if you want to read quality work.  And, frankly, right now, no one is doing this better than Grey Matter.  Period.

2016 is going to be fucking awesome, my friends.  Are you ready for the ride?  I know I am.





OK, I Enjoyed The Martian. So There’s That…

Not a long post, cuz I’m working on stuff right now, but I figured I’d share that me and the lovely Deb went out and saw The Martian last night…and enjoyed it.  Well-made, straightforward SCIENCE fiction.

I guess if I’d have one criticism–and of course I have, Jesus, I’m a curmudgeon–it was that there wasn’t a great deal of tension in the story because, well you kind of knew going in that he wasn’t going to die.  I mean, why make a movie called The Martian, if the lead character, the Martian, dies?  So, there’s that…

Anyway, it was good…go see it.

And, I swear, if I have to hear anymore about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I might scream.  Never a huge Star Wars fan, and I am eager to see the movie…but, jeezly crow, no one’s that eager.

Well, except my eldest son, and I think he’s just eager to see it to hate it.  Oh well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Do I Like Anything Anymore?

The lovely Deb and I saw Spectre last night.  Now, I am a James Bond fan since…well, since I was very little.  My dad was a huge Bond fan, in the Connery/Moore days.  He had all the Fleming books–still does, the original sixties mass-market paperbacks–and we kids and my mom were taken to every new Bond film that came out.  I have a great love for those old Bond films.  Connery was and will ever be Bond, but Moore (early on at least) was a pretty good Bond.  Dalton was a great (if prickly) Bond, Brosnan was a good sort of cheesy Bond.

When Daniel Craig came along, I was a little skeptical, but Casino Royale wowed me.  Quantum of Solace was somewhat of a letdown, not Craig’s fault.  Skyfall…well, I didn’t like Skyfall much.  But compared to Spectre, Skyfall is a classic.

Spectre is two and a half hours of bad exposition, long, boring chunks, and characters doing stupid things to advance the plot, all strung together with manic action sequences.  This time, though, Craig seems bored, diffident, as if he’s just walking through the scenes.

And the idiotic things that are said, the idiotic things that are done, the supremely lazy and stupid writing of this story is almost insulting.  What they’ve tried to do–and this is going to get necessarily a little spoilery–is tie up all of the villains and stuff that’s happened in Craig’s previous three movies into one nice little package.

Great idea, potentially, but not here.  Instead, what we get, is the introduction of a classic Bond villain, but this time given a personal spin relative to Bond…somewhat literally.  But the motivations for the villain’s deeds are murky and ill-defined, to say the least.  And really, they seem small and petulant when examined outside the framing of the film.

The end, as with Skyfall, is stupid, and is predicated completely on (again as with Skyfall) people doing stupid things so that the plot can advance.  Oh, and the other thing, the secondary villain driving much of the Double-O Program’s existential angst is so transparent and ridiculous, that if you don’t guess what’s going on in the first 10 minutes or so, then you’ve pretty much never seen a Bond film.  Or a spy film.  Or a film.  Period.

This could be Craig’s last outing as Bond, and that would be too bad, as he does a good job when he’s engaged in the plot.  But the current franchise has been a slow ebbing away from the kick-off of Casino Royale.  Hopefully, if he comes back, it will be to send his version of Bond off on a high note.  Then, let’s get Idris Elba in as the new Bond.

Now, the headline.  I feel as if I complain a lot about things.  Many, many movies I see (and I love to see them) leave me cold these days.  My mother says that Deb and I don’t like any restaurants, because we’re constantly going out and not liking places.  I guess this can be construed as getting old and cranky or really, really picky about things, or just being a chronic complainer.

Well, I am getting old, and I am fairly cranky.  I also am not embarrassed to say that I am pretty picky if I’m laying down money for something–whether it’s a meal, a movie, a book, an album or whatever.  Why shouldn’t you be?  If you’re spending real American dollars on stuff and it’s not up to par, why not be honest about it?  Why is it such a big deal to some that you might have the temerity to ask for a little quality in the things you consume?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Now, get off my lawn.

Alexa? Can You Hear Me Now? Alexa…Dammit…ALEXA!

So, in about a week or so, my wife Deb and I will celebrate our first anniversary.  Seems strange, because I feel as if I’ve known her forever and loved her at least as long.  And yet the wedding seems like it was yesterday…probably because of all the stuff that we managed to compress into one looooonnnnngggg year–rehabbing her city house (which took significantly longer than that year), putting said house on the market, selling it, moving her to my place, finding another place two hours away, buying it, then moving yet again with all our stuff to another state.  Then all the stuff you gotta do to settle into a new house with all your combined stuff.  And then some minor medical stuff for me.  Sheesh.

Anyway, so our first wedding anniversary is nigh, and we got each other some anniversary gifts.  I gave Deb a beautiful piece of stained glass that now hangs in one of our front windows.  Because I am a nerd, she got me something that plugs in, of course.  An Amazon Echo.

Have you heard of this?  It’s basically a little cylinder with speakers that sits somewhere in your house and can be spoken to, asked questions of, play music, tell you the news and weather and other nifty little things, like starting a shopping list.  It’s, of course, over-priced for what it is, as with all new tech products, but I was delighted to get it and approached opening the box and setting it up with all the zeal of a young boy opening a much-desired Christmas present.

At first, it was delightful.  Set up was stupidly easy and my echo was perched on the kitchen counter and talking to us about weather and answering questions like “Alexa, who’s the president of Argentina?” Fun.

Then, Alexa stopped talking, except, that is, for telling me that she couldn’t connect to my home wi-fi. For no reason that I could tell.  Working one minute, absolutely not working the next.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret about me.  I am calm, fairly Zenlike in most situations.  I am hard to rile, don’t like to lose my temper or raise my voice.  That’s not to say I don’t do either of those things, you understand, it’s just pretty hard to get me going.  I can deal with just about any personality type without losing my cool.  In other words, people usually are incapable of pressing whatever buttons I might have.

Things, though?  Oh, things that don’t work, that don’t do the simple things they were manufactured for?  Oh, that generally takes me to DefCon 1 with startling rapidity.  I can be moved to intense rage by car problems, and computer stuff can send my blood pressure soaring.

So, I spent an infuriating day and night yesterday, trying to get this device to work. I stressed myself out completely, accomplished nothing, except, perhaps, to make my lovely wife, the giver of this gift, feel bad about giving it to me, which was not not goal at all.

This morning, I contacted Amazon again to see what they could do.  I love Amazon, everything about Amazon.  I spend the vast majority of my small amount of expendable income with Amazon.  Deb and I have Amazon Prime (love it), I have about 200 books on the Kindle app on my tablet, we use Subscribe & Save and Fire TV.  And we’ve always had wonderful experiences with Amazon when things turn sour.  In fact, I can state quite equivocally that we’ve never had a negative experience dealing with Amazon customer service.  Never.   In years and years and years of dealing with them.

Anyway, the kindly tech from Amazon, Ben, walked me through some things, then sent me off to speak with the slightly less helpful people at my internet service provider.  And then…Ben called me back about an hour later…called me back as I was packing the Echo back in it’s box since it still wasn’t working, preparatory to sending it back for a refund.  And he walked me through some things that finally…FINALLY got it working.

It sits on the counter now on the kitchen, ready to help, connected to the home wi-fi.  I’m downstairs in the evil lair now, so hopefully when I ascend to begin dinner, it will still be working, ready to answer my every burning question, such as “How many teeth does an ocelot have?”  And “Alexa, play some Alan Parsons.’

Life is good.

Write Reviews. Read Reviews. Rinse. Repeat.

Shane Keene is a one of those cool people the Internet wafts your way every once in awhile.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet more than my fair share of people like Shane–Dale Elster, David W. Spell, Rich Duncan to name a few.  People that are huge genre readers, smart, and avid supporters of writers like me. To say that’s appreciated is, perhaps, an understatement.  Shane’s started a new review site, Shotgun Logic, and you should definitely go there and subscribe and see what Shane is reading and what he recommends.  Oh, and Shane’s a fine Irishman, too.  Just thought I’d point that out.

I wrote a little ditty for Shane’s site, and I wanted to give him the opportunity to say a few things here, to my six readers, and he took me up on the offer.  Let me just say that what Shane has chosen to write about is a subject near and dear to my heart, as it is–and should be–to the withered little heart of anyone who writes as a career.

Reader Feedback in the Digital Age

Last week John came over to my blog and wrote a very insightful and expertly written article about short form horror fiction. I’m happy to say that John’s piece was very helpful for my blog and very useful to all three of my followers. Within a day it became the most visited post on my blog to date and gained me some new followers, both to my blog and to my Twitter accounts and Facebook page. So I’d like to take an opportunity to say thanks for that to John and to encourage you, his readers to go check out his excellent article.

In addition to so graciously supporting my blog, John also invited me to use his space to blabber at you for a bit, and pretty much gave me carte blanche as far as subject matter is concerned. It’s a gutsy and questionable decision on John’s part, but I’ll be good and color within the lines for a change. Instead of using this opportunity to take over the world, I’d like to talk about a subject that is dear to me and the reason I started my review blog in the first place: the importance of reader feedback in the modern world.

Competition is fierce and abundant in the digital everything age. Self-publishing is easier than it’s ever been and every wanna-be author in the world has the internet at their fingertips. Because of this it has become increasingly difficult for readers to find new and quality reading material, and even more difficult for authors to get their work noticed.  But the reader and author both can take steps to greatly improve the ease of the process.

I talk to a lot of people about reading on a daily basis, and I mention reader feedback in those conversations quite often. The most common responses I get to this are, “Nobody will care what I think”, or, “No-one reads those reviews anyway”, and one other, “I’m not a good enough writer to write a review.” I can tell you from experience and from conversations I’ve had that none of those statements is even remotely close to the truth. As an example, here’s my process for choosing a book: A) Look at the number of star ratings a book has—on Amazon or Goodreads— and the average number of stars per rating, B) Read the book synopsis, and C) If I’m still unsure, page down and read what other readers have to say about the work. When I do this, I’m looking for what they think, not how well they can write. If I’m still unsure at that point—a rare occurrence—I’ll go look at what the more mainstream review outlets have to say.

The process I just described is pretty common among readers so, just from that example it’s easy to see how important feedback can be. And feedback can take a multitude of forms, the most effective being reviews on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. In addition, providing a brief link to those reviews on your Facebook and Twitter accounts–if you have them–to let your friends and followers know what you thought. In doing so you’re doing your friends a service by informing them of good books they might enjoy, and you’re doing the author/publisher a huge service by drawing attention to their work.

And something important to consider about what I just said, or rather, didn’t say: you don’t have to leave a positive review for something you didn’t like. Just leave an honest review that tells why you did or didn’t like a particular book. It doesn’t have to be long or deeply involved. Just slap a few lines up if that’s all you want to do. It only takes a few minutes and it will help immensely in keeping your favorite authors, editors, and publishers in business so they can keep producing the books you love.

As far as authors go, while there is very little they can do—beyond writing good stories—to increase the amount of feedback they receive for their work, there are a few things that can have an impact. Since beginning my blog, my experiences with the authors I interact with have been largely positive. Most of them are really good people. But there have been a few exceptions. In one case I had an author tell me that he could care less if I reviewed his book. It seems obvious to me that that is a bad idea. Even though I am a fan of that writer, I am unlikely to read his work again, much less review it. Another thing I’ve observed more often than I’d expect. A lot of writers take an ‘I don’t read reviews of my work’ approach. While I understand the impulse, there are a number of reasons why this is a bad way to go. First, it serves to shelter the author from potentially useful critical feedback that might help them improve their writing and increase readership. In addition, they run the risk of alienating loyal readers and reviewers, thereby reducing the number of reviews and ratings they get going forward and decreasing the percentage of new fans who depend on star ratings and reader feedback to make purchasing decisions.

Well. This has gotten much longer than I’d planned, so I’m going to take a breath and leave you with this: Authors, be kind to your reviewers and take care of them. Sure, some of them are assholes, but the majority of them mean well and they’re the ones who’ll make or break you. And readers, take care of those authors you love. It’s your feedback that keeps them in business and encourages them to keep writing the books you can’t live without. So if you love it, talk about it on social media and take a minute to leave a quick rating/review of it.

Crimson Peak Was…Well…The First Guillermo Del Toro Film I Didn’t Like

I love going out to see movies, but haven’t seen any for a few months.  Selling houses, buying them, moving all worldly possessions, becoming (for the first time in my rapidly aging life) the legal resident of another state other than that which birthed me, then medical stuff.  Scoping both ends and recovering from both.  All of this has left us with little time and little desire to try out the local movie experience here in our new Illinalien home.

So after having some serious sinus surgery last week, I was ready to get out of the house, even if I did feel like shit and was leaking blood from my nose like the world’s worst head cold.  Over the last few weeks, we’d wanted to go see A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson (one of favorite humor writers) and The Martian, but missed them both.  (We’ll have to screen them later on our new 60-inch TV, so not necessarily a bad thing.)

What to see then on this our first outing in our new town?  Deb wanted to see Secario, mostly due to her deep and abiding lust for the swarthy Benicio del Toro.  But I can’t really stand crime/drug/terrorist/mafia movies much.  And our friend, Matt, was down in the area…and both Matt and I like a good horror movie.  So, we’d let Deb go drool over Benicio and we’d go see the movie that supposedly scared the hell out of the estimable Stephen King.  Crimson Peak.

Well, if that was really the case, then old Uncle Steve is getting soft in his advancing age.  I found it to be, at turns, sumptuous, richly filmed, evocative, silly, really silly, really, really silly, ridiculous, loaded with tropes until bursting at the seams, possessed of some really bad acting, pointless and ultimately, really, really, really silly.

Guillermo is the del Toro I love, and I have pretty much loved all of his pics, including both Hellboy movies.  The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth are fantastic movies.  While Crimson Peak is beautifully filmed and art directed–the sense of place you get in the film’s beginning–the glorious industrial age of the United States-the so-called Gilded Age–is fantastically realized.  If only that were all that was called for in a movie like this.

What Crimson Peak sets out to be is not, as advertised, a gothic horror movie; it’s really more of a gothic romance, with some gratuitously bloody violence thrown in for good measure.  But what ultimately does the movie in is that del Toro throws every single Gothic trope into the stew–from mysterious, off putting houses, to ghosts roaming around to the unnatural relationship between characters.  Everything.  And it all just piles together like a strange, Gothic multi-car interstate pileup, until you can’t distinguish between any of them.  They all just add up to a strange, rather appalling sketch of a story that makes little sense if you stop to think of any of it.

And it’s not very romantic for a Gothic romance nor particularly scary for a Gothic horror.   The acting is mostly OK, with Hiddleston trying to inject some redeeming quality into his character.  But Jessica Chastain is just awful, cardboard thin, ridiculous American/British accent.  She moves as stiffly as a starched dress through the proceedings, as if wondering just how exactly she wound up in this movie.

The other thing that has bothered me–and it bothers me more the farther I move from the picture–is how it calls out, in a lot of little details, a better del Toro movie, The Devil’s Backbone.  From the opening/closing narration on the nature of ghosts, to the signature spirit with the shattered head wound leaking blood into the air like ink swirling in water, I was bothered by these  cinematic references to what was, in every detail, a better movie.

Anyway, I guess it was bound to happen.  The first del Toro movie I didn’t really care for at all.  I think I’ll just crank up The Devil’s Backbone this Halloween and wash the stain of Crimson Peak from my mind.

Why is it so damn hard to make a decent horror movie?  Because believe me, if Guillermo del Toro has problems doing it, it’s not too hard to see why others do,


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