A Reason to Believe in WILLOW CREEK

The theatrical poster is great...

The theatrical poster is great…

I try to go into movies knowing as little as I can about them.

When I’m making a recommendation or looking to go to the theater with people, it’s strange how much the question “What’s that one about?” sets me on edge, irks me.

It probably shouldn’t, it’s a reasonable question, but most times I don’t know and don’t care what a film is about. Either I heard the movie was good, or I like the director’s previous work, or I glanced at the Metacritic score: there could be any number of reasons, but whatever, I just want to see it, man.

Even without watching a single trailer or reading a single review, the minimal amount I knew about Willow Creek upfront was almost too much.

All I knew was that this was writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait’s found footage movie. And that the tone was played straight. And that it was about Bigfoot.

This info was not only enough to make me want to see the film, but enough to make me feel kind of crazy while watching it.

See, I’m both a Goldthwait fan (especially World’s Greatest Dad, a serious contender for best comedy of the last decade) and (clearly) a horror fan. But the melding of the two, I have to admit, made me a little leery.

For the first few minutes of the film, I couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t stop the deluge of questions: why make this movie? Where is this headed, tonally? Is this some kind of fakeout? It’s SO different than his other movies, is this something Goldthwait did for a paycheck?

Yes, all that thinking was keeping me from focusing on the film itself, but once I got into it? The answer to all these questions? The film’s greatest trick?

Well, it’s that Willow Creek is no joke, no cash-in. It’s not only a “for real” FUBU (even without listening to the commentary where Goldthwait admits to as much, it’s plain to see in the film he’s a student/fan of the genre) horror flick, it’s one of the best found footage films ever. Period.

As a birthday gift for her boyfriend, Jim (Bryce Johnson), Kelly (Alexis Gilmore) agrees to accompany him to Northern California where the duo will film a documentary retracing the steps of Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, who shot the famous 1967 footage of Sasquatch. It’s clear from the first scene that, even though Kelly and Jim are fond of each other, there are still stressors on their relationship (issues with their careers, locations, and their ideology when it comes to Bigfoot). The two leads are so strong (asked to improvise large portions of the film, it turns out, as there was only a 25 page outline of a script) that even if there was never any Bigfoot action, Willow Creek would still be an accurate portrayal of the little pains everyone goes through in a relationship.

The couple spends the first half of the movie interviewing experts, traveling, and exploring the cottage industry that the Patterson-Gimlin footage has inspired. This kind of film is never everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re someone that bemoans found footage as a genre, Willow Creek is not going to do anything to cure you of that. But jeez does it work for me. I consider myself pretty jaded when it comes to scares and I thought the ending was straight-up terrifying.

...but this alternate one by Alex Pardee is superior.

…but this alternate one by Alex Pardee is superior.

As harrowing as the final 20 minutes is, Willow Creek is probably Goldthwait’s gentlest film.

It lacks the comic nihilism/misanthropy that started in Shakes the Clown, was perfected in World’s Greatest Dad, and (in my opinion) turned God Bless America into an overlong, one-note, kind of deal. For many other directors, a voyage into the darkest genre would be an opportunity to cut loose, but for Goldthwait (again collaborating with stars Gilmore and Johnson) this is a chance for the plot to carry the bulk of the darkness, allowing for more relatable, likeable characters. Although Willow Creek was first conceived as a mockumentary comedy (Goldthwait himself an enthusiast into Sasquatch lore), that tone was jettisoned early and even the oddest of the film’s supporting characters is treated with a tenderness and understanding that few other films would afford them. In its way, Willow Creek is quite sweet.

Part of what’s so awesome about Willow Creek is that it functions similar to the way the Patterson-Gimlin footage itself works on viewers. It’s a layered mystery and once you view it you end up, like Jim, needing to know more. Not only are there narrative threads left hanging, stuff to pick at and think over, but the film’s use of non-actors and real Northern California “Bigfoot industry” locations makes you puzzle over how much of the film is real and how much is scripted.

I picked up the Blu-ray at HorrorHound Indy, and I’m unsure how the movie will play with audiences stumbling onto it on Netflix streaming, unable to get that immediate context. Unlike a magic trick where the illusion is ruined by learning how it was achieved, Willow Creek is a film that all but demands you check out the supplemental features to peek behind the curtain.

The director clearly has a strong grip on the horror genre, but, as he notes on the commentary, Goldthwait is not a found footage fan. While he does praise The Blair Witch Project (as he should, Willow Creek sticks pretty close to BWP’s successful structure), he points out that many of its progeny are lazily put together, ending up far too processed and edited to be viewed as convincing found footage “documents” by their audiences. To combat this, Goldthwait claims that the first cut of Willow Creek included only 67 edits, and although that number is much higher in the finished film, that level of restraint (and his insistence on ending most sequences on a “in-narrative” cut) is a good indicator that the man knows what he’s doing.

The director semi-seriously jokes that this would be the kind of movie best made “If I were in my early 20s” (I’m paraphrasing) but I don’t think that’s true at all. Even with the improvisational feel, Willow Creek is a polished production, one whose themes of belief vs. skepticism and nuanced view of relationships couldn’t have come from a first time director.

So I had my doubts, but Goldthwait made me a believer. I hope this won’t be his only foray into horror.

Postscript update: while looking for an amazon link to throw on this review (it’s $13 bucks on blu right now, which is a bargain), I peeked at some of the customer reviews it has on there and *woof!* To say I strongly disagree with most of these people would be an understatement.

Things to Do in Indianapolis When You’re Still Alive (and a Horror Fan)

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So that previous post? Yeah. I’m going to leave it up but it looks pretty silly to me right now, freshly arrived home from HorrorHound Indy.

How was the con?

It. Was. Awesome.

Did I sell that one book I wanted to sell? No, I sold many books.

I sold so many books that I ran out of copies of Video Night before lunch on Saturday, with way more than half of the convention to go. Because The Summer Job is my more recent Samhain title, they brought nearly twice the amount of that one, and I still came within a handful of copies of selling out. This is both awesome and hard to imagine, since VN outstrips its older brother in sales fairly consistently.

It takes all kinds of critters...

It takes all kinds of critters…

So it was professionally successful, in that I was loud, shameless in my salesmanship, and a good number of people there were awesome, into books, and willing to stand and talk to me for a little while, but even outside of the professional stuff the trip itself was also fun as hell.

The representatives from Samhain (Jacob, Matthew and Amanda) couldn’t have been cooler or more on top of things. On Saturday I even got to briefly meet with, Christina Brashear, the president of the company. Samhain is a publisher that cares about its rep, wants to get in good with fandom, and I couldn’t be happier that I’ve got three novels with them. They GET it.

My fellow authors were also gracious and warm. Sales took a hit whenever Jonathan Janz stepped behind the table, but you can’t begrudge the man because he’s so magnetic and personable. Tim Waggoner and John Everson are two authors I was reading way before ever attempting to get published, so to have them be so supportive and open was surreal (John’s also way into Euro-horror, which gave us tons to talk about). David Searls and Mick Ridgewell were on my side of the table, both nice. Mr. Searls just needs to learn how to lie and say that his books have dragons in them, if dragons are what people want.

Having never stood behind a table for any real length of time before, trying to sell books, I was shocked how much fun simply talking to people was.

An insanely good Papa Emeritus cosplayer blesses my books. For Satan.

An insanely good Papa Emeritus cosplayer blesses my books. For Satan.

I’d started to lose my voice by the end of Saturday but it didn’t much matter, I was still flagging people down to take pictures of their costumes or comment on their shirts. It was such a diverse group, young and old, men and women, talkative and shy, folks who hadn’t heard of Samhain and those who approached the table as big fans of their output (“Sorry, Kristopher Rufty didn’t attend this year, but he’d probably want you to buy my book if he was here.”).

I got to talk to parents, students, guys who own DVD labels, librarians, twitterers, special fx artists, filmmakers, journalists, readers (I even tried to convert a few non-readers, was quasi-successful), automotive workers, hospital employees: you name it. And everyone was there because they loved the genre, which is enough to make you want to get weepy.

I’ve already had people I talked with find me on facebook or twitter or drop me an email and I hope to hear from many more.

 

Tryouts with the Furies.

Tryouts with the Furies.

From what I hear, HorrorHound’s Cincinnati show is even bigger and better, but that’s hard to conceptualize after such a great time. No matter where you live, if you’re into horror I urge you to go to this next year. I’m now planning on doing both shows, for as long as Samhain plans to show up in force.

Aight. Enough of the bloggy stuff. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming soon (a review of Synapse’s new Prom Night disc, maybe?).

One final public service announcement: orders for Sinister Grin’s limited edition hardcover of Jackpot (by Shane McKenzie, Kristopher Rufty, David Bernstein, and myself) are ending on September 19th.

This is not a “pre-order” in the traditional sense, because there will be no other way to get a copy. Once orders are closed, that many books will be printed and you’ll never again be able to buy this edition. If you’re a collector who misses out: you’ll have to settle for either the ebook or paperback, out 9/23.

‘What if No One Cares?’ & Other Very Real Possibilities

In a few short hours I’ll be getting on a plane to head to Indianapolis for HorrorHound Weekend. I’ll be selling books and signing at one of my publisher’s booths (Samhain, who has released all of my full-length novels to date) and enjoying the con, but in truth: I have no idea what to expect and, boy, am I nervous.

Well. I know what to expect.

Although I’ve never attended a HorrorHound Weekend this won’t be my first time at the horror con rodeo (it’s more likely to be my fiftieth, which is a bummer because I lost my punchcard and could have qualified for a free coffee).

What I don’t know is if I’m going to sell many (any?) books.

For the uninitiated, but I’m guessing most of you are initiated if you’ve found this musty corner of the internet, there are really two types of horror conventions:

The biggest category is the movie-centric cons. Shows like Chiller Theatre, Fango’s Weekend of Horrors, Monster Mania, etc. cater to the masses. The attendees are folks who want to meet the stars of today and yesterday and get some 8 x 10 photos signed. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact I love that stuff and will most certainly be lining up to meet Larry Cohen, William Sadler and James Remar this weekend, but these aren’t typically the kinds of shows you go to sell books.

Oh sure, there are always a few authors with tables set up at these events. I’m generalizing, but from what I’ve seen, many of these authors are indie (i.e. self-published, which is not a dirty word but I think most who are into it prefer the term “indie”), new to the scene and trying to slug it out with a less than receptive audience. I respect that, but you also don’t see a lot of these guys and gals as permanent con vendors and I’m guessing many times that’s because their sales are not enough to justify renting the table.

The other type of con is your fiction-centric show, which most times function more as trade shows and retreats more than they do actual, open to the public, cons. Shows like this (World Horror, Readercon, etc.) are awesome, but also way smaller. The first con I sold books at was KillerCon (which is sadly no longer running) and it was a great experience. Even though you’d think there would be too much competition at an event like this, where the dealer’s room is almost entirely books and most of the attendees are authors themselves, I nearly sold out my first novel (Video Night). With John Skipp’s help (he was VERY vocal in his support of the book) I also moved all the copies of Tribesmen I’d brought and that was the first day, I had people coming up to me on Saturday and Sunday asking if I had anymore.

There are exceptions to this two-category system, of course. Rock and Shock in Worcester, MA is kind of an odd duck, not only because they have a concert series to go along with their con, but also because they attract high-level horror fiction names. The New England Horror Association sets up a table, sells from their members, Shock Totem sometimes has a table, Sarah Langan attended one year, and Jack Ketchum is a pretty reliable fixture. But even at this quasi-fiction-friendly event, 99% of the people were there for the film and TV stuff.

I also hear that Scares That Care, which just had its inaugural event, has gone a long way towards bridging the gap and I look forward to their hybrid model spreading.

If KillerCon was my first and last experience sitting at a table trying to sell books (outside of a half-day at the NEHW table once and an hour at the last WHC), then why am I so anxious to attend HorrorHound?

Because I know that one time at KillerCon was an aberration, not the norm, and I know that now I’m going to be fighting an uphill battle, competing for people’s money against autographs and toys and grey-market DVDs.

So what am I going to do this weekend? Well I’m going to be hanging out with other Samhain authors (Tim Waggoner, Mick Ridgewell, David Searls, Jonathan Janz and John Everson) so I’m sure that will be a big part of it. But what I’m really there to do is hustle.

My friend Scott Cole laid out these postcards for me, and I think they state my feelings about horror fiction fairly bluntly:

keep horror strong AC

On the reverse side is a 3×3 block of my covers with my website listed at the bottom, but I think I’d be handing these cards out even if they weren’t self-promotional, even if they had the work of other authors on the back.

I think it’s my duty as a reader, when I come to these shows where the hot ticket items are Funko Pop! dolls and semi-nude stills of Jamie Lee Curtis, to proselytize a bit.

Yeah, I’m trying to sell my own books and build an audience, but I’ll also be repping my Stephen Graham Jones The Last Final Girl t-shirt, recommending Eraserhead Press and the bizarro scene to any people who seem to enjoy loitering around the Troma booth, trumpeting the work of Laird Barron, Cody Goodfellow and Ellen Datlow’s collections to anyone who’s sporting some Cthulhu gear.

Because if there are more readers there’s not only a bigger perspective audience for my own hack work, there is a horror scene at-large that’s cooler, savvier and demanding more out of all their entertainment.

And what’s my sales goal? At what threshold will I deem the show a success?

I want to sell one book.

I want to sell a book to a kid that’s going to take it and read it. Maybe a kid that hasn’t picked up a book before, is just at the con because he or she loves The Walking Dead or something and thought it would be fun to come out.

And then, in my head, I will envision that kid reading more books, reading widely and voraciously in and out of genre, even though horror’s always going to own their heart. The next time that kid comes to a con I hope that there’s a Samhain horror table, or a few individual authors set up, and I want that kid to comb the dealer’s hall, looking for their next read. 

If I can do that? Well, then I actually don’t really care if anyone else in Indiana cares.

Okay…maybe two books.

I hope to see you there.

BTW, the paperback of one of those books I talked about last time is now up for sale.

OUTLAST: In Defense of the Jump Scare

The lowest hanging fruit, when it comes to poking fun at horror films, is to make a “look out for the cat!” joke. By which I mean the jump-scare is too often used as a pseudonym for the cheap scare.

Screw that noise. I like a good jolt. If the film is confidently put together and can pull its jump scares off: the more jumps the better.

Of course there is such a thing as a bad jump scare or poorly executed or overused scare. But badmouthing jump scares because of that’s like saying you don’t enjoy pizza because one time you had some at the bowling alley and it tore you up.

Usually these filmic punches don’t land because of lack of audience engagement. If you’re watching a film you don’t like, aren’t invested in, then you’re much less likely to care or buy in to the spookhouse trick. Non-diegetic music swelling as a character or camera movement telegraphs the moment a little too much creates a scare devoid of tension, jumps are a tool in the horror filmmaker’s belt, but there’s also an art to it.

Even when the scares are technically proficient, wonderfully executed, if they’re not grafted onto a movie that elicits serious dread from the viewer then the film can end up feeling breezy, a rollercoaster that you may have had fun on, but see no need to ride again or even think about once you’re done. For all of their polish, their wealth of great jump-scares, I find myself feeling this way about James Wan’s post-Saw films.

So I’m less a fan of jump scares and I am a connoisseur, a snob, a junkie. But junkies build up tolerance, connoisseur’s find their palates getting so refined that they can’t enjoy what they used to love. I think the same thing happens with horror fans. Which is why haunted attractions are so fun, when they’re done right, like, say, Philadelphia’s Terror Behind the Walls: they get you jumping, no matter your tolerance for cinematic shocks.

But haunted attractions are usually seasonal deals, where are we to turn for our fixes when the local haunted hayride ain’t running? Maybe video games.

outlast banner

So now that I’ve written that long and rambling introduction, what does this have to do with Outlast? Everything. Well, almost everything. Outlast has a lot of positives going for it: incredible sound design, lush graphics, interestingly minimalist gameplay, but I would argue that that all these bells and whistles exist solely to service the scares. These tech achievements are especially impressive as this is no triple-A production: developer Red Barrels is a fairly small team.

After years of stagnation (or more specifically, the inclination to put more action into the survival horror genre, broadening the genre’s appeal but resulting in games that are more horror-themed than they are horrifying) horror gaming seems to be going through a bit of a renaissance right now. I say “seems” like, because I can’t be sure for myself: I’m not a PC gamer and most of these bigger recent hits (Amnesia, Slender) are exclusive to that platform, so was Outlast before it was ported to next-gen consoles earlier this year.

Boy, am I glad it made the jump to console.

Lights out and sound up, Outlast is probably the most frightening gaming experience I’ve ever had. It’s got atmosphere, it’s got tension, but where it really shines are its jump scares. It brought me back to the Resident Evil and Silent Hill of yore, although I think the first person perspective really adds something (something that Fatal Frame and its first sequel clearly understood some time ago).

Outlast is a product made by people who not only have a firm grasp on their medium but also the genre they’re working in. As great and reactive to any given situation as the soundtrack is: most of the game’s tension blooms out of the gameplay itself, or more specifically the restrictions that gameplay places on the player. This isn’t a game trying to be cinematic: it’s a game trying to scare you in a way only interactive media can.

Outlast tells the story of Miles, a reporter who’s caught wind of some strange (and probably super illegal) goings on at Mount Massive Asylum. Miles arrives to find that the patients have overtaken the hospital and are not just garden variety victims of abuse, but products of nefarious experimentation. While the central mystery doesn’t make a lot of sense until the later hours of the game, your motivation as the protagonist is always clear and believable.

As threadbare as the story can seem in the early half of the game, what is there is completely absorbing because it has such synergy with the gameplay.

Outlast doctor

Instead of collecting coins, weapons, or other OCD-baiting ephemera, in Outlast players collect dossiers while trying to catch enough filmed evidence with their camcorder to build a good story in their notes. It’s the perfect intersection of dramaturgical motivation and game mechanic. Players aren’t searching for every bonus collectible to unlock a useless achievement (although they do that, too) but because our unraveling of the plot demands we be thorough going through the game’s environment.

Some stories in games suffer when they introduce a free-roaming first person perspective, because developers are giving the player the freedom to miss scripted events, Outlast solves this problem by having player’s perspective their only key to completion.

As a stealth-based game there is no combat. There’s not even any of the resource management that made the early RE games so tense. You only have one consumable resource: batteries that can be used to power the night-vision mode on your camera. Although I never once ran out of batteries, the game does string you along in sequences, artificially inflating the scarcity in some levels, making you think that you could run out of power at any point, could be left alone in the dark.

The main criticism most ‘hardcore’ (read: hairsplitting) gamers are going to have is that there’s technically not much game to Outlast, at least on the normal difficulty setting. Pants-pissing moments aside and much like a physical haunted house: the game’s fairly easy to beat by just ducking your head and running through.

But, for me, there was only one sequence where I wasn’t totally in love with Outlast and it was the game at its most ‘game-y’. It was a scene where I kept dying and had to rely on memorizing the patrol route of an enemy in order to get past him. In many traditional games, that frustration, repetition and subsequent triumph cycle would be extremely rewarding, but in Outlast dying a bunch of times only showed me the seams of the system. I wasn’t terrified anymore: I was playing the game like I would any other FPS, sans gun. On the tenth time going through those two checkpoints, the experience was equivalent to walking a haunted house with the lights on.

Outlast is relatively short, but it portions out its runtime exactly right. Around the last quarter of the game, where I was beginning to grow jaded, my brain realizing that 99% of scripted events wouldn’t kill me, didn’t pose a threat, the game switches tones to something closer to an episode of The X-Files and ties the story up in a compelling string of sequences that feel very different from the rest of the time spent in Mount Massive. The game was written by JT Petty, the filmmaker responsible for The Burrowers and S&Man, so that the story and script is smarter than your average game shouldn’t really surprise. I mean, I feel like I had known this some point (probably when the game was initially released for PC) but I had forgotten by the time I picked up the game, ending up pleasantly surprised as the credits rolled.

I can’t recommend Outlast enough. I really hope to see more from Red Barrels and that other developers take note and really try to scare us. 

Transitioning…

Maybe I’m just defensive of jump scares or hold them on a pedestal because I’ve got jump scare envy. You can do so much in novels, but no matter how many times you type “Boo!”: nobody’s going to jump. (I feel like I’m paraphrasing someone there, but I can’t remember who: sorry for stealing your idea, whoever!)

Speaking of which: I’ve got new books out. Well. Actually not me alone, these are my first two collaborations and they just happen to be coming out in close proximity to each other.

The limited edition signed hardcover of Jackpot, a book I wrote with Shane McKenzie, David Bernstein and Kristopher Rufty is now up for preorder from Sinister Grin Press. It’s about a serial killer who wins the lottery. It is most definitely meant for fans of extreme horror: for real, it’s WAY gorier and sicker than my other stuff, so don’t say I (or Jim Agpalza’s cover) didn’t warn you.

If you’re not a hardcover collector or a true-believer, there will be more affordable editions of Jackpot in the near future.

Also Cameron Pierce, Shane McKenzie and I’s crazy metatheatrical/satirical/parody thing Leprechaun in the Hood: The Musical: A Novel, which was serialized on reddit, is now available from Broken River Books (the same publisher as The First One You Expect!). The ebook is currently out while the paperback should be dropping any day (or even hour) now.

For those of you wondering when my next full-length, non-collaborative novel will be out, you only have to make it until December:

Exponential300

 

 

 

Some Boring Self-Analysis and then an Offer to Punch Me in the Head

This is a long post, but bear with me, it goes somewhere. Also: parentheticals, sorry,so many parentheticals.

With most of my books the life cycle has broken down something like this:

I enjoy a nice little amount of positive press (mostly, but not entirely, in genre-specific venues), have an opening boom of my people (friends, family, my small group of readers) buy the book during that first month and then sales level out into a nice steady pace.

None of them do spectacularly, but all of my main titles (Video Night, Tribesmen, and now The First One You Expect) do sell consistently.

Not counting short story collections and pre-orders, that pattern applies to all of my books except The Summer Job, my second full-length novel. The book did have the opening boom (thanks grandma!) but then sales swiftly fell and stayed down.

SummerJob(1)

This baffles me.

Not only does it baffle me for selfish, narcissistic reasons, as I think the book is some of my strongest work available, but also for fairly objective reasons, as it doesn’t seem to follow the arc that all the other titles have taken.

The Summer Job got roughly the same amount of press as my other full novel (Video Night), received some high praise from some major outlets (Bloody Disgusting, John Skipp in Fangoria), Samhain did a decent job with advertising, and the book has even made an appearance on a best of the year list (specifically, a “best of the year, so far” list over at Complex). Yet the sales don’t stack up to my other stuff.

This could be a failing on my part (maybe I didn’t do enough to flog it, didn’t send it out to enough blogs or whatever or maybe I’m bad at that kind of thing), a failing on the book’s part, or some middleground between the two.

Or maybe there are other contributing factors:

  • The Summer Job has been criticized as having “less action” than Video Night, so maybe that’s a turnoff for the people who liked the breakneck pace of that earlier one, but, come on: this is not some ponderous novel about an upper-middle-class twenty-something moving to Brooklyn and dealing with their quarter-life crisis while drinking French press coffee. Stuff happens in this book, big, bad, for real scary stuff.
  • I’ve also heard from people who’re a bit turned off by the cover, thinking that the book’s somehow romantic or “erotic” horror. It’s not, so maybe there’s a problem with how it was branded.
  • The book doesn’t sell itself on any set (or at least salable) horror trope. There are no aliens, cannibals, zombies, or vampires, and that might be what’s making it such a tough-sell. If that’s the case, it’s a bummer because I really do love the subgenre it fits into, I’d categorize it as belonging to the folk horror or satanic panic genres.

I’m thankful to the people who have taken the time to write a review on amazon or Goodreads, to share a link, or tell a friend. There are quite a few of you out there and I don’t want this post to sound like I’m whining or somehow ignoring the enormous favor you’ve done for both me and the book. I appreciate everything and am sincerely touched by any feedback (positive or otherwise).

I mean, the book exists regardless of whether it has an audience or not. That’s something I’m happy about, proud of, because I now have this artifact on my shelf, something I can look at while I’m working on new projects and say, “oh yeah, that was a good one, glad I did it.”

But still…I’ve got this hankering for a mulligan, a chance to launch the book again and be on my A-game this time, promotion-wise (which I’m not even sure what that means, but it would probably have to do with being more obnoxious, sending out more emails, not something I’m a fan of).

I can’t have that launch again–and I’m not looking to dip into sensationalism here–but I can lay down an offer:

If you buy, read and then don’t enjoy The Summer Job: you can punch me in the head.

Nothing below the eyes or above the chin (I don’t want to lose any teeth and I feel like I’ve probably got a glass nose), but anywhere else on the head, temples included.

I’m kidding.

But, sincerely, if you actively dislike the book: provide me with proof-of-purchase and I’ll send you back the four bucks and change you paid for the ebook.*

Or I’ll send you one of my other books as a replacement.

Whichever you prefer.

Because I want to push sales, gather some momentum, this offer will be valid on books purchased from now until the end of August. 

I’m confident in this novel, and thus fairly certain I won’t have any takers for this offer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spread the word around and give people a chance to take The Summer Job taste-test for themselves.

I wouldn’t make an appeal like this just to make a few extra bucks (my royalties aren’t going to make me a millionaire, maybe not even a thousandaire), I’m doing it because I want to see the book get in more hands, hear what a broader audience has to say about it.

Thanks for you time.

*The fine print: don’t just buy it and quickly return it, I’ll be able to tell from your order number. All refunds will be sent in an envelope, snail mail, and I can’t promise I won’t have wiped my nose with the bills.

TRIBESMEN is Back!

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Yes. It did go somewhere.

For the last few months, the Ravenous Shadows version of my first book, Tribesmen, has been unavailable for purchase. I wasn’t sure anyone would notice, but I was pleasantly surprised when I started getting emails and tweets from people looking to pick up a copy, asking where it went. That interest for the book made me incredibly happy, and makes me doubly proud to announce that the novella is back and better than ever thanks to Deadite Press!

Tribesmen‘s glorious return, much like its first printing, is thanks to the Mighty Mr. John Skipp. After I obtained the rights back from Ravenous, Skipp brought the book over to Jeff Burk (editor to the stars!) at Deadite (a subsidiary of publisher Rose O’Keefe’s Eraserhead Press, so big thanks are due to her, too) and the result is this beautiful new edition.

Not only did he bring this and Jan Kozslowski’s Die, You Bastard! Die! over to Deadite (and if you’re not familiar with their output: 1. how? and 2. get acquainted!) he seems to have brought himself over as their new acquiring editor, too. Details here in Fangoria.

Just to be clear: if you already own Tribesmen all you’ll be getting with this new release is the new spiffy cover by Matthew Revert and some slight improvements to the text.

It’s the same book, so don’t double-dip unless you share the same ungodly collector’s compulsions that I have.

And if you love Revert’s cover, know that you’re in good company.

I know, linking to a tweet is probably tacky, but come on! Brian Keene! That’s cool!

I’ve got the paperback link up on the sidebar, but if you want options (kindle, nook, even ordering through Powell’s) this page will point you in the right direction. As with all my books, I really appreciate any feedback and word-spreading, so tell your friends!

Yeah. There’s not much to this post but me hawking my wares, but I swear: I’m really close to blogging something of worth again.

I’m super busy at the moment, but when I get the chance I’ve been “relaxing” by playing small chunks of Outlast. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, those quotes around relaxing are meant to cue you in that I’m not really relaxing, but paralyzed in abject terror while enjoying Outlast.

Anyway, the game’s got me thinking about how jump scares get a bum rap and how well-suited certain mediums are to delivering them. So maybe I’ll write that up later this week.

Or maybe I won’t.

DIY Until You Die: SPLATTERPUNK ZINE #5

I used to write a lot of short stories. I was told it was the thing to do, to get started. I’d send some of them out, if they seemed good enough. Sometimes they’d get published, sometimes they wouldn’t, but it got to the point where it felt like researching markets, then submitting to them, then waiting (and sometimes the markets folding before you even heard back, or worse, before you got paid) was taking up more time and energy than the actual writing.

So I stopped and started focusing exclusively on longer works. But the thing is, I was still kind of in love/spurned by the idea of writing short stories, good ones. A lot of my favorite writers work exclusively in that medium, and it had this allure to it, was something I wanted to get better at.

Fast forward to now, a bunch of novels and novellas later, and I find myself in a kind of “when it rains, it pours” situation with opportunities presenting themselves to write short stories. In the last couple months I’ve written three shorts, each one coming out toned and tight, better than any of the ones I started with years ago, each feeling like the best thing I’ve ever written.

One of those is still out in the wild, being poked and prodded, but two of them have become sure things and will see print. The first of them will be in the pages of Splatterpunk Zine.

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If you’re unfamiliar with the name, don’t worry, I was too. Earlier this year when I saw that some of my buddies, writers I admire, were having first-run stories in this little under-the-radar mag. Naturally curious, I ordered a couple of issues (it’s a British zine but neither postage nor wait time is unreasonable, which is a plus).

With its cut and paste DIY aesthetic, handsome original art accompanying every story, and premium writing: I became a fan, a vocal one. This led to editor Jack Bantry taking an interest in my stuff (a review of The Summer Job ran in issue #4, sadly sold out) and he reached out to see if I wanted to send him a story. DID I EVER!

It’s not only awesome to be appearing in an issue with biffles Shane McKenzie and John Boden, the queen of extreme Monica O’Rourke and future-editor Jeff Burk, but also humbling that Dan Henk’s amazing art for my story is gracing the cover.

When I first saw Dan’s art I was repulsed, gob-smacked by its brutality (all positives), but I also thought “wait a second, this story is like the most atmospheric, restrained thing I’ve ever written, how the hell is that the art that..oh wait.” Yeah, that image is in there, restrained and atmospheric or not. You’ve been warned.

You can place your order for an issue here. Do it soon, they do sell out.

Opening up and letting The Devil in with A FIELD IN ENGLAND

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It’s an odd sensation, enjoying a film so much but being hesitant to recommend it to people without knowing them.

A Field in England is fantastic, but it’s also probably not for everyone. 99% of the things I talk about on here (and yes, I’m aware that I’ve been posting at a nearly exponentially diminished frequency) are at least tangentially related to the horror. This film is not. So if your full-sleeve Freddy Kruger tattoo begins to itch at the very mention of venturing outside your genre: leave now.

A Field in England has its share of bloodshed, but it’s certainly not a horror film. Set during the English Civil War, A Field in England is a period piece, one that sees our protagonist shoving his face with magic mushrooms, but is played much straighter than its psychotropic advertising art might lead you to believe.

On Drafthouse’s stellar Blu of the film, there are a few moments in the extra features where the director lists his influences. To be honest, I was quite surprised that he didn’t mention any plays.

It’s not the period language that makes A Field in England feel like it could have been written for the stage, but instead the prevailing sense of absurdity in the first half of the film reminded me of Beckett, Ionesco and Pinter more than it did anything cinematic. Before the film mellows out, the first few minutes (opening in a literal, military barrage) are a barrage of dislocated space and time, partly due to the rush of in medias res dialogue and partly to Wheatley’s quick cuts and purposefully confused camera placement.

This confusion blooms into a kind of road-movie-without-the-road as all the action is restricted to a single field, our three strangers getting to know each other and much of the film’s humor and warmth coming from their absurd exchanges. Whitehead, our bookish protagonist, tries to explain his profession (alchemist, astrologist, etc.) to Friend, a well-meaning rube, but can’t get as far as stars. Friend has never heard of the stars, to which Whitehead replies “Have you ever looked up?”

Wheatley is once again joined by constant collaborators Amy Jump, James Williams and Laurie Rose, worth highlighting because Jump’s script is wonderful, William’s score is hypnotic and Rose’s cinematography is gorgeous. The lot of them form a kind of supergroup that makes each member just as important to the feel of Wheatley’s oeuvre as the director himself. Also returning are a number of actors, none more standout than Michael Smiley, whose O’Neil grounds the film as his goals are straight forward and recognizably villainous no matter how oblique the treasure he seeks or arcane the means of finding it.

The story is slight, but there is a story for those who are not put off/bewildered by some of the film’s arthouse trappings (tableau, black outs, and even a few songs, among other touches). At only 90 minutes, A Field in England moves at a pace that will be sumptuous for those that buy-in and (I’m guessing) drag for those who don’t. The film knows how to structure its escalation and reward patience, though, and it builds to a climactic shootout that has more in common with John Ford than any of the Bergman-esque musings in the 80 minutes prior. The black and white photography is beautiful and it’s definitely a film meant for the biggest screen you can find, it’s nice that the disc comes with a digital copy, but this is not ‘on the go’ watching for your ipad.

One of the things I’ve loved about Wheatley’s filmic output is that although the films share some thematic interests, they are all incredibly different in terms of execution and tone. During the interview included on the disc, Wheatley acknowledges the way that his first four films make a loose quartet and then cryptically hints that he may be moving in a new direction.

Could A Field in England represent the end of an era?

With his next film set to be an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise, it’s possible. It’s Wheatley’s first adaptation, and knowing the demands of the story and the talent already attached, it should be a bigger budget than he’s seen. But there’s also a way that High Rise feels like a natural progression from Field.

The premise sounds Hollywood “high concept” when you reduce it to a logline: “a class war breaks out in a near-futuristic apartment complex.” But, Ballard’s novel is much more philosophically inclined than that sounds. First off, the “class war” is middle-upper vs. upper class, not what we’re used to seeing, and the titular high rise itself is more a symbol of the character’s anomie and the isolating effect of modernity than it is set dressing plucked out of Blade Runner.

The last filmmaker (in a long line that stretches back to when the book was originally published, I believe) was Splice-helmer Vincenzo Natali, a fine director, but maybe not a perfect fit for the material. If Field, with its deft juggling of the real and the hallucinogenic, the absurdist and the (deadly) serious, is representative of how Wheatley will approach High Rise, there should be a clear line connecting the adaptation with the rest of his work.

And where does he go after that? Hopefully to complete international renown, getting to make whatever he wants however he wants. After hearing that Wheatley worked on the season opener for the new Doctor Who, it’s easy to see his trajectory continue upward to bigger (and maybe more conventional) projects, but I hope that doesn’t stop him and his collaborators from doing what they do best.

If I may continue this line of armchair producing (or cinematic astrology, if we wanted to keep with the theme), I’d like to make a suggestion: if Wheatley is going to continue with adaptations and wanted to loop back around to discussing English folklore, then there’s probably no better material suited to him than Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.

Just a thought.

Here’s Richard Wells‘ alternate poster for the film, turning one of its live-action tableaus back into a woodcut, bringing everything full circle:

A FIELD IN ENGLAND Richard Wells

 

LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD: THE MUSICAL: A NOVEL and a Quick Update

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If you are at all familiar with the work of Cameron Pierce, you’re probably already aware that the dude can have some crazy ideas. When he asked Shane McKenzie and I to help him out with this book he was writing, we were both pretty quick to say yes. It’s called Leprechaun in the Hood: The Musical: A Novel and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Not only did we have a hell of a time writing it, we also agreed that an unorthodox novel deserves an unorthodox delivery system, so we partnered with Dreadit, the horror Reddit, to serialize the whole book for free. You can head over there and read the first part now or find out a bit more here, then check back every Monday for a new installment. If you like it, please spread the word.

In other news, my horror-soaked-noir novella The First One You Expect is now out from J. David Osborne’s Broken River Books and the response has already been pretty overwhelming (in Spinetingler Magazine and HorrorNewsNet). 

But nowhere more than this double-header Fangoria (!) review from the mighty John Skipp where he not only has some kind words for First One, he also discusses The Summer Job.

I know blurbs aren’t supposed to be this long, but I think I’m going to insist that all future editions just put this on the back cover: 

“It’s like Jim Van Bebber’s THE MANSON FAMILY mates with THE WICKER MAN on the set of Ti West’s THE INNKEEPERS, starring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansonn from GHOST WORLD.

This is not to say that it doesn’t play novelistically, cuz it does, actually invoking no one more than Ira Levin in its subtle unfoldment. Albeit with more disembowelment and burning-alive, to go with its loose and thoroughly believable 21st century characterizations. Awesome characters, all up and down.

But here’s the thing. I found myself not just reading the book but watching the movie it supplied to my head. Its narrative flows, and its people speak, and its images resonate like motion pictures, with a seemingly effortless discipline that bespeaks more skill than is obvious on the surface.

THE SUMMER JOB is a really fucking good book, and a definite expansion of Cesare’s cinematic wavelength. Whoever decides to make a movie out of this has a doozy of a challenge.” 

Listen to the man. Buy it! Or, ya know, option it if you’re like some movie producer or something.

Count Your Teeth If You Got ‘Em: THE HANGMAN’S RITUAL

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If you’re a horror person like me, Nick Antosca’s The Hangman’s Ritual draws you in with a cover blurb in which Brian Evenson likens the novel to Oldboy and the Saw-esque slasher The Collector. While that’s a beautiful quote and probably helps move books, it’s a bit of a disservice to the novella.

This is the second longer work I’ve read from this author where familiar setups and narrative tropes are reconfigured and used to great effect. In The Obese it was the Romero-ian siege story, stretched and molded into a delivery system for some very modern, very specific social commentary, which is kind of why the zombie story was invented, even if most of the folks working in the genre seem to have gotten away from that. In The Hangman’s Ritual we begin with the setup made familiar in Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, a man held captive for an indefinite time in a secret prison, but invert it by focusing on a different character: the warden.

Our protagonist, Casper, a low level employee at a Hedge Fund (a business whose workings we’ll have about as much of a grasp on as our protag seems to, i.e. basically none) who is forced, through tragic circumstances, to change positions at the company, working as the concierge at his boss’s private “Hotel.” It’s the modern notion of being a slave to your job taken to its extreme, and the fact that Casper, a depressed alcoholic who is still admirably protective of his young son, seems to be a tiny bit duller than the reader only helps to heighten the tragedy and tension.

Two chapters in, it becomes clear that we can drop the Oldboy comparisons, apparent that Antosca is going to tell his own twisty-mind bender of a story. The Manhattan setting, instantly recognizable/believable for anyone that’s ever lived in NY or the surrounding area, helps to ground the story even as it climbs to its most allegorical heights (a villain with an office filled preserved insects in Lucite, a character’s solitary-confinement induced hallucinations that include a man made of feces).

Being a novella, it’s a quick read but there are plenty of novellas that don’t cover quite the same amount of ground that The Hangman’s Ritual does. Both the narrative and thematic content feels dense, but still it moves like lightning, easily finished in a day. Like any good mystery there are feints, reveals and reversals, some of which you might see coming but still have difficulty with until the end sets everything (well, everything narrative) in place for you.

Like its author, The Hangman’s Ritual is a book that skirts the borderlines of a few genres (horror, mystery, crime, all with a decided literary bend) but should appeal to fans of any of them. It seems like the kind of book destined for a film adaptation, one that might gloss over some of the complexities. Check it out now so you can have smug conversations with your friends that don’t read later. Highly recommended.