Monday, September 11, 2017

You'll Float, Too: My Review of Stephen King's "IT: Chapter One"

Adapting a novel to another medium is no easy task. Add in a previous adaptation that has achieved a level of cult success, and things get even harder. When the work in question is from Stephen King, a man whose career is littered with a series of hit-or-miss (mostly miss) adaptations to the screen, the task might even start to border on the impossible. Finally, consider that the source material is a whopping 1,000+ pages, and many would prefer to give up before they even begin. The odds are almost guaranteed that you'll produce something closer to Maximum Overdrive than you will to Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile.

Thankfully, IT gets it right.

There's a balance to adapting a novel to a visual medium, be it comics or television or movies. The printed word allows you to get inside your character's heads, to be the character in a way. Since a book can be as long as it needs to be, the story can be a slow-burner to develop the characters and the world and the problems. Movies and television have a set amount of time to tell the story, so often such luxuries fall by the wayside. In Hollywood, it's generally accepted that 1 page of script is the equivalent of 1 minute of screen time. A thousand hours is longer than most television series ever get, much less a movie. So how do you adapt it, and do it right?

By getting to the essence of the story and the characters, and not spending a large amount of time on the fluff.

There are a lot of things going on in the novel for IT, but at its core, it's about fear and the loss of innocence that comes from growing up. To illustrate this, King tells the story from the point of view of the characters as children, and then again as adults, 27 years later. The old TV miniseries, did it over the course of two nights and three to four hours. For the movie version, it's done in a similar vein: split into two, with the first having a hefty two hour and fifteen minute runtime. This one is about the kids, the Losers' Club.

And the screenwriters definitely understood the essence of their fear and innocence. As we meet the Losers, I found myself smiling fondly, like I was seeing old friends I'd lost touch with over the years. They're that close to their novel counterparts. Not exact, there are some pretty significant changes, but the essence of those characters is there. Did they look precisely like they'd been described? No. But it didn't matter. Those kids did a great job in their roles, with special props to Sophia Lillis for her incredibly nuanced portrayal of Beverly Marsh and Finn Wolfhard's spot-on Richie Tozier.

As to Pennywise itself, Tim Curry set the bar high with his version of the killer clown back in the 1990 TV adaptation, but Bill Skaarsgard is more than up to the task. His take is different, and in my opinion, more of what the character we saw in the book was than Curry's. It feels like heresy to say that, but it's the truth. That they used CGI in some interesting ways with him also made it feel more like the Pennywise that haunted me as a kid reading the novel alone in my room at night. It goes from subtle to overblown at the drop of a hat, but always serves the character in an effective way.

The story is significantly pared down from the books, as was the TV version. The difference is that this one keeps the more disturbing elements that ABC didn't want to show. The Losers' fears and how they manifest are done quite well, and while they aren't all that scary to me as an adult, I can see how they would be to myself when I was their age. Gone are the large chunks of exposition that detail the history of Derry and the horrible things that happen there. We get the important parts of it in maybe ten to fifteen minutes of screen time, and that's really all that's needed. The rest is cool to read, mind you, but it's not essential to the story.

Unfortunately, we did lose some of the dynamic between the bullies (Bowers, Criss, and Huggins, oh, my!)  and the bullied during this adaptation. Perhaps to compensate, the times they are on screen are exceptionally powerful. The crucial moment when Henry Bowers confronts Ben Hanscom next to the Barrens is there, and it plays almost exactly as brutal as it felt when I first read it back in 1987. On the other hand, we got to see more of Bev's personal demons as well, something that was lacking in the 1990 adaptation. It was nice to finally be shown that her father wasn't the only bully in her life.

Speaking of the Barrens, if there's one thing I really missed, that was it. I can understand why it was removed, as there's just so much story and not much time to tell it in, but I would've loved to have seen more of it. I felt the kids' bond with one another, but I think a few more scenes of them hanging out in the Barrens would have really cemented it for me.

Some people have complained that this should have been set in the late 50's like it was in the book, but I disagree. True, the 80's were an era of excess, but we only see it that way now. Back when it was happening, when I was a kid the same age as these kids, I never saw it that way. And while Derry is an analog for Bangor, it still keeps the small-town feel present in the book, so that innocence remains despite the era. That it could have been my own childhood in a way maybe enhanced it for me. Your mileage may vary here.

Things that were there that I was thrilled to see on-screen: Richie's motormouth (they don't call him "Trashmouth Tozier" for nothing, you know...), the house on Neibolt Street, the strange re-occurrence of the number "27", a beautiful update to the old "photo album" scene, the relationship between Henry Bowers and his father, a subtle and possibly creepier update to the relationship between Bev and her father, and what may have been my favorite element from the book, Ben's haiku actually having a meaning for him and Bev.

Some of the changes, as evidenced by that list, were perfect for the story. A notable example is that Pennywise's catchphrase has a meaning now (I'll let you figure out what I mean because, spoilers). Perhaps the best was the ending itself, when the Losers confront It in It's lair. The book had some issues with this part (a child orgy? Really, Uncle Steve?), and was almost too heady to accurately reflect on-screen. The TV series tried, and failed spectacularly at it (I believe Wrath James White referred to it as "the Space Spider"). Here, we got what we needed: while there was a hint that Pennywise was something much, much worse than just a simple creepy clown, most of it was left to the viewer's imagination, and we got to see the kids fighting the thing that has been broadcast as the villain since the first clown appeared on the book's cover. I did have one issue with a part of this climax, which I'll not talk about since it would qualify as a spoiler, but I got over it quickly enough. It just seemed like the screenwriters had written themselves into a corner and needed a quick way out, so they did... this. That's probably not the case, but it felt that way, and pulled me out of the story a bit. Thankfully, they were able to pull me right back in with relative ease.

Overall, this is an adaptation done right. The balance between what made the book work and what can be shown on screen is there, making the movie more than live up to the hype built up around it. The beautiful part is that if the adult chapter of the movie doesn't maintain that, it almost doesn't matter. This is IT the way it should be, and for me ranks right up there with Shawshank and Green Mile as the best of King.

I rate this one four and a half out of five red balloons.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Real Ghosts from the Past: The Story Behind THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD

Every story starts somewhere. For CONSEQUENCES, it was a local legend from my high school days. For THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD, it starts more recently, but it does dig into things that happened as far back as middle school for me, and also digs into things that keep themselves hidden in the dark recesses of my mind, only coming out on occasion when I’m feeling especially vulnerable. Writing the story helped me to deal with those to some degree, and hopefully writing this “story behind the story” post will help me finish exorcising them. Will it get rid of them? No, they’ve been there too long, and have become a part of who I am. But hopefully they’ll lose what little remains of their sting, and that’s more important, anyway.

Since JEREMY TODD has only been out for a couple of weeks now, I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible for those who haven’t managed to get very far into it.

One of the themes in JEREMY TODD is bullying, and how victims of bullying deal with it as they get older. This is the first and only time I’ve ever gone into a story with even that much of a theme in mind. Usually, I just have the story idea and then I write it. I might find something during edits, some subconscious thing that crept into the story somewhere along the way, but it’s never a conscious decision. This time, it was. Everyone has their hot-button topic, the thing that sets their blood to boiling until the rage is nearly strong enough to consume them. For me, that topic is bullying.

The main catalyst for THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD was the suicide of a fourteen year old girl who went to my youngest kid’s school. She was bullied incessantly, and ended up stabbing herself to death in one of the local parks near where I live. I already posted a rant about how this made me feel (which you can read here if you’re interested), so I won’t rehash it. At the time, I thought that rant would get the anger out of my system, but it didn’t. I also didn’t realize it at the time, but it was only going to get worse.

See, I was bullied in school. Nowhere near as badly as Jeremy Todd is in the story, and by high school the majority of it had faded as I found my own “crowd” to hang out with, but it happened. I wasn’t into sports, I loved computers and science fiction and horror and comics and the like. I wore glasses and had an orthodontic device (can’t remember what it was called, but it was to fix an overbite) and generally had zero self-confidence. I never got into fights from it—I was always the one who ran away—so the abuse wasn’t ever physical, but the mental and emotional abuse was more than enough. Somehow, I managed to push all that to the back of my mind as I grew older. I realized it wasn’t that important anymore, and tried to move on. The problem was that all of those feelings were still there, hiding, waiting for the chance to spring out and surprise me.

When I started writing Jeremy Todd, they got their chance.

I realized almost immediately that this story would only work if it was told in the first person, and on the heels of that came the knowledge that it needed to be this guy’s personal journal.  Therefore, to write this, I had to become Jeremy Todd to some degree, had to allow his thoughts to supplant my own for the couple of hours a night I was sitting in front of that open MS Word document. Then, as he worked up the nerve to write about his past, I discovered that those memories I held and tried to keep hidden started peeking out to mess with me once again.

Let me go ahead and clarify a couple of things, one of which I’ve mentioned but feel bears repeating. NONE of the things that happened to Jeremy Todd happened to me. The abuse I dealt with was much more subtle than what he had to contend with. Also, with one exception, the bullies in the story are NOT based on any one person, be it in name or personality. I did blend some people together, and made a couple up whole-cloth, but I didn’t single anyone out from those days. The one exception is a name, and no, I won’t be revealing which character holds the same name as one of my bullies. I have no idea what they did with their life, and have no intention of dragging their name through the mud if they’ve become a better person than they once were. My catharsis came by using them in the story, and that was good enough for me.

As I was saying, those memories came back as I transcribed Jeremy Todd’s tale. It’s normal for me to drink a beer or two while I’m writing—three if it goes especially long. For Jeremy Todd, though, that jumped to a six-pack or more as well as most of a pack of cigarettes in two to three hours. The character is dark, and since I was writing in the first person, that by necessity caused me to go to a dark place. Those memories that kept creeping back made it even darker. I couldn’t sleep without getting so hammered I passed out. I was miserable even during the day, and often couldn’t figure out why. I grew to HATE Jeremy Todd, and considered scrapping the whole idea more than once.

But I didn’t. There was some little voice telling me that I needed to see it through to the end, needed to write the pain out, in a way. So, I forced myself to keep going.

The words came easy enough, but that doesn’t mean the story was easy to write. The exact opposite was true. I didn’t even realize why at the time. I finished the manuscript and filed it away like all the others, and got started on something else, something more light-hearted and fun, and tried to forget about that nasty little thing I’d done. I sent it off to my beta readers and figured I’d get to the next draft eventually, but for the moment, I didn’t want to think about it anymore.

Then Sinister Grin did their month-long open call for submissions, and I realized it was the next logical thing for me to work on and send out.

I got my beta feedback and knocked out the second draft in a week. I wasn’t paying great attention to the story itself, but rather the technical aspects of cleaning up the first draft and making sure everything was coherent. Then, incredibly, they took it. A week after I signed the contract, I decided to sit down and actually read what I’d written, to try and force myself to dig into what I’d done.

What I discovered first was how much of myself I’d put on the page. Jeremy’s stories about delivering pizza near the start of the story? Those actually happened to me, almost exactly as written (with one exception: he wanted to save someone after the second one, I just drove away thinking “what the fuck was that?”). He wants to write comic books, I think it’s obvious the career path I’ve chosen. Even down to some of the strange thoughts he occasionally has matching my own at times (I’ll elect to keep those to myself, thank you very much. If you know me well enough, you might can guess at them, though). Other things were exaggerations on me or feelings I’ve had. A prime example? I’ve never reacted to anything the way he does, nor have I ever WANTED to do to anyone the things he does to some of the folks in this story. I never had to deal with the extreme tragedy in my life he did. All of that is pure fiction. Still, what is fiction except the lie that covers the truth?

The other thing I learned as I read through the story was that while I’d convinced myself that all those things from so long ago no longer mattered, the truth was that they did. Without my even being aware of it, they’d shaped me and how I reacted to things even as I led what I felt was a pretty well-adjusted life. When I looked back I could see the struggles I’d endured, and to some degree still endured. I could see how difficult it had been to get my self-confidence to a level where it needed to be, how hard it was to feel like I belonged in the places and with the people I ended up with. I’d been fighting a war for years in my subconscious, and I’d never even realized it. It’s possible other people might have seen, but I kind of doubt that. One of the first things I’d done was to become adept at wearing the mask, no matter what. Anyone who saw me would have seen someone who appeared to be doing just find. Hell, it was even what I saw when I looked in the mirror. The difference was, I could feel the twinges of reality beneath the surface, even though I was keeping them buried as deep as I could.

This is one of the wonderful things about writing horror, though. I have a dark lens through which I can filter those negative feelings and emotions, something that acts like a strange sort of self-psychotherapy in a way. As a result, a funny thing happened once I finished that read-through of JEREMY TODD: I actually felt better. I’d lanced the wound and allowed the infection to escape. I’d faced down and fought some of my demons, and came out on the other side as the victor. Did it totally get rid of those feelings? Of course not. I’m over forty years old; they’re a part of me now. But I did learn to deal with them instead of trying and ultimately failing to ignore them.

Even better, as I’ve gotten to know other people in this field, other horror writers specifically, I’ve heard stories about growing up that very closely mirror my own. I’ve learned that I’m not alone, and to me, that’s the biggest struggle when dealing with the after-effects of being bullied as a kid. When it’s happening, YOU’RE the one it’s happening to. It doesn’t matter if you were the hundredth person those bullies had dumped on that day. That’s their methodology, see. They isolate you, make you feel apart from everyone else. Yet to hear so many others talk about the same things, I realized that while I felt alone at the time, I never truly was.

People are sometimes surprised that horror writers are some of the nicest, kindest, most accepting people they’ve ever met. I think this is one of the reasons why. We see those demons in each other, recognize them as familiar, and almost instinctively band together to fight them. We see people who feel like we did, who feel like they don’t belong, and we actively welcome them. We stand as one and scream that no matter what you’ve gone through, you are not alone. As writers, we deal with our demons through our work, and as readers we do it through someone else’s experiences that touch that part in us that we have in common with them. And the beauty of it is that it works across no barrier from time or distance. How freaking awesome is that?

Times have changed. What got us picked on as kids is now considered “cool”. Unfortunately, the bullying continues. They just found something else to use to beat us down and lift themselves up. Maybe one day we’ll finally stop it, but for now, all we can do is be there when we’re needed.

I didn’t do it in the text, but THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD is officially dedicated to the memory of Sherokee Harriman and all the others who were bullied beyond their ability to withstand it, and who decided the only way out was a permanent way out. It is also dedicated to all those silent masses who are still being bullied, and are struggling to deal with the immediate results of it, not to mention the results they won’t know about until many years from now. I get it: It feels like no one else could possibly understand. But that’s not true. We are out there. We understand.

And you are NOT alone.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Scares That Care 2017

This year, I decided to check out the Scares that Care Weekend in Williamsburg VA. When I first announced I was going to attend (as a fan this time around, not as a working author), I had several people ask for me to give a run-down on how it was and what I thought of it, so that’s what this is. If you’re curious about a first-timer’s experience as a member of that strange mid-ground world of both a fan and a writer, read on. If not, well, feel free to skip to the pictures and then move along.

A quick note on said pictures: most were taken as I met folks, and being a writer, authors are where most of my attention fell this weekend. There are some groups on Facebook where you can see the awesome cosplay pictures from the con, as well as the other actors and movie guys, so feel free to check those out as well.

GPS declared this to be a ten-hour trip, so my friend and I decided to leave the Nashvillle area at around four in the morning (Central time) in order to arrive at the hotel just as it became check-in time. The trip actually took eleven hours, and neither of us got much sleep the night before, so Thursday already had all the earmarks of a strange and interesting day before it even got started.
Partners in crime! With Somer Canon.
The only event for Thursday night was Scaryoke at the hotel bar, so after kicking back and trying to relax, and grabbing a bite to eat, we headed from our hotel down the street to the Doubletree where the convention was being held. Almost immediately I ran into Somer Canon, whom I’d become Facebook friends with, and got the chance to finally meet in person. As I stood there having a beer and chatting with Somer and her husband, Kane Hodder decided to start messing with me over the length of my hair, and proved he is one of the funniest and nicest assholes in the business. Kane managed to pull C.J. Graham and Steve Dash into the joke, too, meaning I had not one, but THREE Jasons giving me shit. Kane promised this would be going on all weekend, and I had no doubt he was sincere. Want to insult me? Go for it. I took shit from Jason Freakin’ Voorhees, okay? You got nothin’.

Somer told me that there was a room aside for writers to hang out in and talk instead of the crowded hotel bar, so we headed there and got to watch as Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni, and a table full of other friends and authors held an impromptu remembrance for J.F. Gonzales while they signed the signature sheets for the Clickers Forever anthology done in his honor. This was recorded for Brian's Horror Show podcast, so you’ll all get to hear it for yourselves some time soon.

He might have given me shit, but he's
genuinely one of the nicest guys I've
had the chance to meet.
After this wrapped up, it was social hour for everyone. Somer pointed out the people I didn’t recognize, and I finally got to put names to faces for all the folks I’ve interacted with on Facebook since being graciously welcomed into this strange and wonderful horror community. Adam Cesare stopped by to introduce himself, having recognized me and remembered that I’d done a review for his novel The Con Season, and also succeeded in making me feel more welcomed than I could’ve expected.

Since we’d been up since before the ass crack of dawn, my friend and I called it a night early and headed back to our own hotel, which put an end to the pre-con festivities. A few hours’ sleep, and it was time for the first official day of the convention!

Things kicked off later in the afternoon today, so I actually got to go in well-rested this time around. Met Armand Rosamilia and Jay Wilburn when we went to trade our tickets for wristbands, and then headed to lunch based on an awesome recommendation from Armand. Grabbed a quick nap, and then we were off to the races.

Friday is typically the slower of the days (aside from Sunday, which is the slowest) and the place was still full of people. I had an hour and a half to kill before the first panel, so I hit the celebrity room and decided to meet some of my heroes and now co-wanderers on this crazy road of writing.

The Warlock himself, Julian Sands.
In addition to great guys like Armand, Ronald Malfi, and Wrath James White, I also managed to get a picture and an autograph from the Warlock himself, Julian Sands. Considering that movie was my first favorite horror film, it was a definite dream come true.

In between panels and readings, I managed to wander through the vendor rooms, where I met even more awesome folks, and like as not, picked up signed books from them as well. I spent an especially fun time talking with Chuck Buda, comparing notes about being a new author in horror (we’re both just now in our second years of it), and then it was off to a reading. A final trip to the celebrity room where I got to meet and chat with one of the fathers of splatterpunk, John Skipp, and the most recent addition to my influence list, Jonathan Janz, and then it was time for things to wind down in one sense and kick up in another.
The man with more energy than you
could believe - John Skipp.

I wound up having dinner with a herd of authors as well as Mike Lombardo—who is exactly like he sounds on Brian Keene’s aforementioned Horror Show podcast—and then it was back to the Doubletree for some libations. After some discussion on what was happening where, and a bit more wandering, I found myself in a room with a different herd of authors and some readers playing a round of Werewolves (think the party game Mafia, only horror-styled). After much conversation and fun, it was time to head back to my hotel for a few hours’ sleep before the insanity that was Saturday at Scares That Care began.

(And for the record, Kane kept his promise and gave me shit again today, too….)

The longest day of the con, and one of the most fun and interesting. Somehow I even escaped Kane Hodder giving me shit, which is a minor miracle, too.

The insane hosts of The Mando Method,
Chuck Buda and Armand Rosamilia.
Most of the day was spent in various panels and such, from an exploration of splatterpunk, extreme horror, and bizzaro from several key figures in those genres to a couple of live podcast recordings. The first was Armand and Chuck’s Mando Method, where they pulled me in from audience and made sure to say my name roughly a thousand times. Thanks to both of them for that, by the way. They put me on the spot, but that’s a ton of unexpected exposure, so I will definitely take it.

Horror folks running for
the woods...
Not too long after this, the fire alarms in the hotel went off, prompting an evacuation. No one seemed overly alarmed at this, so it seemed like a good chance to grab some food. While eating, I found out some idiot had been smoking in his room and set off the alarms, so while that guy was apt to have a horrible day once they figured out who they were, everything else would continue as normal.

At a guess, it was over a hundred degrees
in this room....
Next up was a live taping for two episodes of The Horror Show with Brian Keene, one of which included an interview with the legendary authors Joe Lansdale and Chet Williamson, and a Q&A from the audience for the regular hosts of The Horror Show (except for Coop and Dungeonmaster, who were unable to attend). It was an awesome experience, except that the air conditioner was broken so it quickly became the hottest room in the world with the number of people who attended.

Once that was over, it was time to hang out and have some fun again, and I once again joined the “after-hours” group from the night before for pizza, bourbon, and Werewolves (where Melissa Hayward and Rachel Autumn Deering officially christened me "Best John", which makes me smile just to type). I had to be back for an appointment at nine Sunday morning, so I called it a night after one round, and headed back to the hotel.

Waiting for food before the bourbon; half of the "village" for
Saturday night's round of Werewolves. Photo by Hannah
Sunday was coming, and with it the end of this year’s Scares That Care. While there was a part of me that was ready to get home to my wife, kids, and herd of doggage, there was another part that was hoping it wouldn’t come, inevitable as it was….

As I mentioned, I had to be up for an appointment at nine this morning. Well, I woke up, looked at the clock, and thought “oh, it’s 8:30, I can grab something from the free hotel breakfast before I….” and then I actually looked at the clock. It wasn’t 8:30. It was 8:50. Thankfully, the hotel I’m staying at isn’t that far from the Doubletree where the con was being held, so I made it by 9:02. No coffee, but I was able to get some before we got started, so it was all good.

(And yes, that’s vaguebooking, but I’ll announce what it is when I have more details, so just bear with me. Trust me, it'll be good.)

Quite possibly the nicest guy working
in the field of horror fiction, Jonathan
Janz. Not pictured: the flowered pants
he was wearing....
Back to the hotel, pack up, check out, and then off to the bittersweet final day of Scares That Care.
Today was definitely slower than the other days, and everything was much more relaxed as well. I did manage to catch the reading from Jonathan Janz and Mary SanGiovanni, both of whom blew the audience away. After that, it was time to make those dreaded rounds to say goodbye to all the awesome folks I’d spend the last weekend getting to know and hanging out with.

After that, I headed up to the live recording of Armand’s ArmCast Dead Sexy Podcast, where I was included as a participant alongside the wonderful Wile E. Young, who is working on his first novel for Deadite Press. We both had a blast talking to Armand, and then I hung out in the audience for a few more guests. When that was over, the time had come. As much as I hated it, I had to go back home.

I said goodbye to the last few folks I’d promised to meet up with before heading out, and then we hit the road for the long trip back to Tennessee. We got stuck in an accident cleanup within the first hour, fought through rain so hard you couldn’t see the road and almost constant cloud-to-ground lightning as we made our way out of Virginia and into Tennessee, but finally, we made it.

In Summary…
This wasn’t my first convention, but it was my first in over a decade, and definitely my first where I had a “vested interest” in going. It was also my first purely horror-themed one, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

This is just the swag from Day One...
Uncertain expectations aside, I was blown away. Everyone I encountered was open, and welcoming. I walked away from that convention feeling like I’d not just met some contemporaries in the horror fiction field, but that I’d actually made some friends. It’s one thing to be “friends” on Facebook, but after meeting and hanging out with these guys, it feels like so much more than that. I can honestly say that while I’ve only been home for a few hours now as I write this, I genuinely miss them, and am going to be heartbroken that I won’t be able to wake up and go see them all again tomorrow.

I’m not even going to try and name everyone who I enjoyed meeting this weekend, because the list is so long and I’m sure I’d forget someone or something. What I will say is that this weekend made me feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Everyone I talked to made me feel like I belonged, and there are no words to express how that feels. It also reinvigorated me to the whole process of writing and got me fired up for whatever project is next for me.

One of this year's convention hosts,
the multi-talented Brian Keene.
Some people have a preconception of horror writers, actors, and fans as being strange and scary people. While that may be true in some cases, I’ve seen the exact opposite is more true than not. Here we all were, at a charity convention that supports those who really need the help. Not once did I see anyone made to feel anything but welcomed and appreciated for who they were—whoever they were. Will I go back again? Unquestioningly. I was asked more than once why I didn’t have a table there this year, and will be looking at rectifying that for next year as soon as the opportunity arises.

That was how I spent my summer vacation. And as I sit here preparing this post for publication, looking at those pictures, I realize how much I already miss all those guys and how much I can't wait to see them all again next year. Now to relax and recover, and to savor some memories that will definitely last a lifetime.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Journal of Jeremy Todd - Cover Reveal

As I mentioned in that last post, I've been waiting with tremendous anticipation to show you guys the cover for THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD, and now the time has finally arrived! So here it is, without further ado (click for larger image):

You can read more about this one over at the Sinister Grin Press blog, where you will also learn the cool idea that's going to make this not just a book, but an experience.

I'll be posting some updates about the idea of making this into an actual journal later on, but for now I want to thank Matt Davis for this incredible cover, and also Kevin Robel from Robel Graphics for the awesome interior graphics and artwork!

This one will hit in both digital and paperback on July 15th, but you can pre-order it now for your Kindle over at Amazon!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Waiting is the Hardest Part... But It's Worth It

We've all heard that little homily before in regards to something or another: "waiting is the hardest part." When it comes to publishing, it's a fact of life. Still, once you accept it, you can deal with it. There's a wait between finishing a first draft and starting revisions, and another one once you send the manuscript out for editing, and once more when you submit it somewhere. For all of those, you simply work on something else and the wait doesn't seem so bad.

When you're in the final countdown to publication, though, that wait is suddenly MUCH more intense.

As I write this, the release date for THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD is just over three weeks away. We're in the final stages, in other words. That means ramping up the promotional aspect of the release, putting finishing touches on the text so it's as clean as it can be, and the part that's been exceptionally thrilling for me: dealing with the artwork.

This one's a little different from what I've done before, in that there's actually interior artwork as well as the cover art. I can't explain why, exactly, at least not yet, but there is. When the idea was first tossed out there a couple months ago during the planning stage of the cover art, no one was really sure it would pan out. Then I was talking with my editor, the always wonderful Erin Al-Mehairi, and we came up with the skeleton for that artwork, and it became a little more real.

And then, last weekend, I saw it for the first time.

There's a moment when you're putting a book out where it all suddenly becomes real. Maybe it's when you see the listing on Amazon, maybe it's when you send in those final edits, maybe it's the first time you see the cover. For me, it was seeing that PDF proof of the interior art. My first thought as I waited for my phone to download the file was, "holy shit, this is actually happening." Then I opened it and saw the art.

It's a good thing I was alone in my car at the time. Otherwise, someone would have thought I'd lost my mind.

I giggled. I barked out a laugh. Then I giggled again. Each page I scrolled through was its own moment of surreal excitement. Vague images that had only existed in my imagination so far as hazy ideas suddenly exploded into full, living color. I skimmed it, pulled off the road, parked, and then looked at them again without worrying that I'd end up crashing if I didn't pay attention. When I got home and loaded it up on the computer, so I could see it in its full glory, the reaction was the same: uncontrollable giggling and smiles. At least my family already thinks I'm nuts, so I didn't have to worry about what they might think of it.

There's still a bit of waiting to go. We'll be revealing the cover very, very soon, and more details will follow between now and July 15th when the book is unleashed. Still, it's those little moments that make the wait worthwhile. Once you all get to see it, and I no longer have to remain somewhat vague, I hope you'll all agree that the wait was well worth it.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Journal of Jeremy Todd - Synopsis Reveal

I've been talking about it, now it's time for you to finally get some idea what it is. Without further ado, here's the official synopsis for THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD, coming July 15th from Sinister Grin Press!

"I am not crazy.

Then again, maybe I am. I’ve learned that’s not for the person in question to decide, but rather something decided by others, usually after everything’s happened that’s going to happen to tilt their decision one way or the other. I can think whatever I want, but that’s not going to change how anyone else feels, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

I’ve had some issues. That I won’t deny. But am I crazy? I suppose that’s going to be up to you to figure out.

I’ve done things that many people would consider crazy, that’s true. Some of the things I’ve had to deal with—and the way I’ve dealt with them—might also play into the crazy verdict. Still, I maintain that I am not crazy.

Well, maybe just a little bit. But I don’t think anyone with a kind heart can begrudge me that. I’ve earned my crazy, if you want to see it that way.

But here, you figure it out. This is my journal, my story, a snippet of my life for a month or so. This is what happened to me around the time of my high school reunion. This is what I did, and why I did it. The story not only of that reunion and the events surrounding it, the ones you’ve probably read about in the papers, but about the things that happened during high school that make it necessary for things to play out the way they did. This is what happened to me, and to Roger, and Nikki, and Chris, and all those kids who thought I was simply a target in school and treated me as such. This is the true story of what they did to me, and what I did to them in return.

Read it, share my pain, and then you tell me if I’m crazy or not. I’m sure you’ll understand. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.

I’m sure you’ll agree that I’m not crazy.

And who cares what that judge thought, anyway?"

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

And Breathe...

I'm finally doing it. I promised it before, and ended up going back on it time and time again, but this time I'm actually going to follow through: I'm taking a break.

I've discovered as I've worked my way through OBSESSED (formerly CLUTTER) that the words have been coming harder and harder. Where I was finishing a chapter a night, now I'm doing good to finish a chapter in three or four days. The story's there, it's just not coming as easily as it once did. At first I thought it was because of some of the things I was trying to do with this one, but then it occurred to me that it was more because I was creatively exhausting myself. So, to try and reverse that course, I'm going to take a break.

As it stands right now, I've got about three or four chapters left to go with OBSESSED. I'm going to finish those up so the story is out of me like some terrible childbirth, and then I'm going to shift my focus to other things until sometime after Scares That Care in July. I've got ideas and things on the bench, but I"m going to hold off starting them for now. One, the third book in the Time of Ashes Cycle, has a long planning period before I can even think about digging into it, as well as a third and second draft respectively on the first two books in that series. I've also got what may turn out to be a modern-day fairy tale rattling around in my head, and while I'm excited to start on it, I know I'm not where I need to be to write it just yet.

Instead of new stuff, then, I'll be working on revisions for the literal mountain of manuscripts I've accumulated over the last couple of years. I really want to get my post-apocalyptic tale cleaned up and submitted (got a couple of targets in mind), I need to finish getting the Cochran books squared away, and then I've got the stand-alone stuff to fine-tune as well. Somewhere in that I'd like to play with some of the less broad tales floating around in my imagination, and maybe send some of those into the wild (anthologies? Patreon? newsletter? all or none of the above?). I also need to get back to focusing on the business end of this somewhat, too, since I've got THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD launching right before Scares, and MUDCAT in the pipeline for edits and publication soon, too. I want both of these to do well, so that means I need to pay attention.

So, a breath. A break. And then back to the insanity once my gray matter recharges. Of course, knowing myself as I do, I'll probably get too restless to actually relax and will be right back into the thick of it before I know it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Simmering Pot of Life

It's been an interesting couple of months.

First, I've been trying to get used to a new day job. The biggest change is my schedule. I've gone from being home on or about midnight at the latest most nights, to walking through the door at 2 or sometimes even 3. Since most of my writing was done when I got home from the old day job, that's been an interesting transition, to say the least. I've slowed down, and while I say it's temporary, I have to wonder at that. I wrote at a breakneck pace for all of the last year and a half, which has made me wonder if I was going to reach a point where I would run out of ideas. That hasn't happened yet, thankfully, but I'm starting to see my newfound slower pace as a blessing in disguise. I still write most every night, but now I'm finding myself relaxing into it, letting the scene flow rather than racing along until it was done.

This has ended up making me love my craft more, strangely enough. By slowing down I've discovered I get deeper into my character's heads, spend more time on their thoughts and feelings about what's happening around them. This is a good thing, I think. I reserve the right to change my opinion if this current project lingers on too long, but for now, I can say with confidence that I've rediscovered what I love about this writing thing in the first place.

On the health front, things are continuing to improve. I've had to get my meds adjusted, but that's part of the process. I successfully went from smoking to vaping, and have now gone down to the lowest nicotine content available for it. If things continue as I expect them to, I should be nicotine-free in about a week and a half, at most. I won't lie; that's something of a terrifying prospect. Nicotine and creativity have always been linked for me, and I do have the worry that if I no longer have the nicotine, I won't have the creativity, either. I know it's silly, but I can't help wonder about it. I'll laugh at myself in a couple of months when I look back and see I had nothing to worry about, but for now, I'll just have to wait and see and trust that things will work out for the best. Strangely, I'm confident they will.

Good news on the publication front: THE JOURNAL OF JEREMY TODD is moving along for release this June. I spent a pleasant couple of days discussing cover ideas and art direction with the guys at Sinister Grin, and came out of it even more excited than I was before about this one seeing the light of day. We've got an awesome idea in mind, and I can't wait for everyone else to lay their eyes on it!

Something fun: if you'd like to tell me in person what you think about it, or any of my other stuff, you'll get your chance this summer! I won't be working it, but I will be attending Scares That Care at the end of July, so feel free to say "hi" if you see me there!

There are other things going on, but unfortunately, I can't talk about them just yet. Suffice it to say, my career is on the track I wanted it to be, and I couldn't be more thrilled about that. Believe me, I'll be letting everyone else in on them as soon as I can.

That's it for now, just a quick little update to let everyone know what's going on with me lately. I hope to talk to you all again soon!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Much Can Change in a Month...

If you’re not interested in a personal post, you might want to skip this one. If you’re only here to check up on the progress of my writing or things of that nature, you might just want to skim it. If, on the other hand, you’re actually interested in me as a person and not a writing machine, stick around. You just might learn something.

As I write this, it’s my forty-second birthday. My age and the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything are now the same (kudos if you caught that reference). I’ve already talked about how my life changed over the last year in regards to writing, so I’m not going to rehash that. What I AM going to do is talk about some of the other massive changes my life has undergone, and most of them in the last month.

Some of you may know or have picked up on the fact that I quit my day job earlier this month. I wish this was because I was earning enough from writing to support myself, but that’s not the case. Actually, the reasons are more important than that.

I’m one of those people who won’t go see a doctor unless I’m at death’s door. I don’t know why, that’s just how I’ve always been since I got old enough to make the decision for myself. Well, shortly after the New Year, I broke down and went to get checked out. I was diagnosed with high blood pressure several years ago, but like an idiot, I stopped taking my medication for it. Things became stressful at the day job, with people showing up to work when they wanted to and things of that nature, which only made my health issues worse. To cope, I was self-medicating to some degree, up from the normal couple of beers or so I’d drink while writing to killing a fifth of scotch or bourbon in a couple of days. I was smoking like a chimney, and generally doing everything I could to kill the stress I was feeling. The problem was, I was killing myself, too. My heart had started beating so hard it was nearly coming out of my chest, and to say I felt miserable would be an understatement.

So, afraid I was going to have a stroke or a heart attack literally at any moment, I broke down and went to see the doctor. Ever hear the old adage your life changes in an instant? I understand that now.

Let me get this out of the way right up front: I’m not dying. Well, no more than any of us are, at least. That doesn’t mean I don’t have things to deal with, though.

They took my blood pressure five times over the course of that two-hour visit. The average reading was around 140 over 110. In case you don’t know, that’s the danger zone, folks. I was informed that had I not come in, I would have most likely had that heart attack or stroke within a week’s time. They did an EKG right then and there, and didn’t like what they saw. I was put on some heavy-duty medication and told to come back in a week. They also scheduled me to have an ultrasound on my heart, which I did. The end result was that my left ventricular and aortic chambers were enlarged, and I have a slight murmur. I was, in effect, killing myself, and being quite successful at it.

I did some serious soul-searching that night after I got home and filled my wife in on my stupidity to that point. I realized quite clearly that if I didn’t make some serious changes in my life, I wouldn’t have a life to change for very much longer. Change number one: the drinking went from borderline alcoholic back to reasonable again, FAST. A beer or two a day? Fine. A normal-sized Scotch or bourbon every now and again? Still okay. My wife even told me I am allowed to have a glass of red wine every day, should I so choose (since red wine’s good for the heart; what a kick that I only liked blushes and whites, isn’t it?). Going to bed half-drunk (if not fully drunk) every night? Over. Done. Not happening.

Change number two: the smoking. I haven’t quit, but I’ve cut back. I’m evaluating options for how best to quit altogether, and will be putting those into action within the next week or so.

And change number three: quit the stress-factory that my day job had become.

For those of you who worked with me or just wondered why I’d done that, there’s the reason. A bit more complicated, but that’s it in a nutshell.

Now, maybe it seems insane to leave a job I’d held for nearly seven years, and that not only paid my bills but kept me insured. Why lose my health insurance during a point in time where I obviously need it the most? Well, my stress levels dropped almost immediately, that’s why. I’d rather fret over trying to figure out how to pay bills and medical expenses than keep making reasons to need that stress in the first place. Money stress is one of those normal, everyday things we all deal with. The rest of it wasn’t. And without the rest of it, the money stress doesn’t seem nearly as bad anymore.

There’s been good stuff, too. Most of it after I started trying to get myself back on track, funny enough. Less than a week after leaving the old job, I had a new one. That has proven to be a stepping stone to another job, that will have a more stable income, and benefits down the line, if not immediately. I had a wonderful response to a story I submitted to an anthology (that I can’t talk about at the moment), and while I didn’t make the preliminary ballot, I did end up on the reading list for the Stokers—off a self-published debut novel I didn’t expect to do anything at all. I’ve actually felt closer to my family, and have learned to appreciate my life more. Maybe it was a horrible way to get there, but emotionally and physically, I feel better than I have in a very, very long time.

So why make this post? Let me be clear about one thing: I am NOT looking for sympathy. I did this to myself, so it would be pretty foolish to expect anyone to feel sorry for my stupid decisions. If you want to pray for me, or send me good vibes, by all means do so. I’ll take all of both I can get. But don’t feel bad for me. I made my mistakes, caught them, and am trying to correct them. That’s just life.

No, I’m making this post so maybe it can serve as a warning or a help for others. I am living proof that you shouldn’t muck around with your health. If something’s wrong, get checked out. If your job is killing you, find something else. Life is too freaking short to subject yourself to a slow suicide.  There will never be a point where you are completely worry-free, so don’t even try for that. Just try to make those worries as small or compacted as you can. Find something to make you smile and hold onto it for all you’re worth. Simply put: don’t just exist in life, actually LIVE it!

Okay, I’ll step down off the soapbox now and wrap this up. I think, ultimately, I made this post because I needed to point some things out to myself, to take stock in a public way so there’s no chance of me lying to myself down the line. I did it to clear the air and dispel some rumors that flared up at the old day job after I left. And I did it because, well, I’m damned proud of the changes I’ve made in the last couple of weeks. I wish I hadn’t been forced into making them, that I’d simply come to them naturally, but things happen as they’re supposed to. All I can do now is capitalize on that.
Thanks for sticking around through this, and I’ll talk to you all again soon!