Monthly Archives: October 2015

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,

If You’re Interested, Here’s an Update…

So, things have been kind of crazy as of the last, I dunno, six months or so.  Selling my wife’s house, moving into the River house (shared with my son & his dog, my three dogs, and then my wife and her cat), then buying a house, uprooting and moving to the wilds of Illinois.  So, we’ve settled in now, more or less, and the writing has been going full steam.  I’m making significant headway on my novel, The Fearing, cresting 200 pages, adding 5-10 pages a day.  At this rate, I hope to be over 400 by end of month, 600 by end of November and finished with a first draft by end of year.

It’s been while since I posted anything meaningful, so I thought, for the six of you who read this, that an actual update might be in order.  So…here we go.

Was accepted into Borderlands Press’ Writers Boot Camp, which will be in Jan.  Had to submit some writing for review, as they only accept 20 students.  And one of the instructors is Peter Straub.  Peter fucking Straub, my writing idol.  So, I had to go.  And I will, carting the finished draft of The Fearing along with me.

Also, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, I’ll be one of the Guests of Honor at the 2016 Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat in October next year.  Other Guests of Honor?  Lisa Morton, Rena Mason, Christopher Golden and…well, Chuck Palahniuk.  Yes, that Chuck Palahniuk.  Awesome.

Sales?  Stories coming up?  Yes, a few things.

Ummm…A couple of projects that might be in the offing with Grey Matter Press.  Yes, I Can Taste the Blood, which we’re just waiting for a couple of formalities before GMP can officially announce.  This project includes novellas from me, J. Daniel Stone, Erik T. Johnson, Joe Schwartz and Josh Malerman.  Probably mid next year.  One or two other projects with GMP, one of which has me positively giddy if we can pull it off.

A novella “Cards for His Spokes, Coins for His Fare,” in the anthology Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, edited by Doug Murano and D. Alexander Ward, editors of Shadows Over Main Street.  Out, I think, sometime mid next year, too.

A story called “Apt Pupae” (get the pun?) in Pete Kahle’s Not Your Average Monster, Vol. 2, out in February.

Two stories, one a novella entitled “The Desolated Orchard” and one a short, “Everything Must Go,” sold to places I can’t talk about yet.  One will be out late next year, probably, and the other sometime before that.  More I cannot say. Yet.

I’m about all out of short stories, something I try very hard to avoid, but they are selling faster than I can write them.  After the novel is finished, I’ll be spending some time rebuilding my stable of shorts…and perhaps a few novellas.  I’m in the very early stages of putting together what I hope will be the follow up to The End in All Beginnings, a collection of novellas I’m calling The Things We Leave Behind.  But that’s probably at least two years down the line.

So, that’s about it.  Got some other projects that are too early to discuss, but could come together soon.  As always, more later!

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