Thursday, December 24, 2015

A New Name

Just a quick note, since as I wrote tonight's chapter I realized what the name for the haunted house story actually needed to be. It happens; I have an idea at the start and then as things progress a better title presents itself (see Graduation Summer becoming Consequences). It just happened earlier than I expected it to, and pleasantly I was not far off the mark.

So without further ado, Hidden Heart now gets its official, non-working title of:

Hidden Hearts

Yes, I realize all I did was make it plural. But believe me, it fits perfectly well, and better captures the nuances of the story being told.

I never said it took much to please me.

That is all! Back to our regularly scheduled sleep time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Blockages: A Progress Update

Have you ever had a time where you thought you would be able to get something done on a specific schedule but then when you actually started on it, things turned out completely different from how you envisioned it? Yeah, that's me now. It's not all bad, just unexpected.

I'm still plugging merrily along on Hidden Heart, the haunted house tale I started right before Thanksgiving. I just no longer think it's going to be done by Christmas like I first thought. Part of that is just the sheer scope of the story I'm telling that I never would have even guessed at when the idea came to me. This thing is constantly growing. Incredibly so. To the point that I've already reconsidered the original length estimate once, and am probably going to have to revise it again. Based on the progress meter, I'm at just over 77% complete; based on the story that's left in my head, that's higher than is truly accurate. This may well be the first horror novel I've done that tops the 100,000 word mark, at least on the first draft. That number was always something attributed to epic fantasy in my mind. I'll know in a couple of days whether I have to rethink that distinction or not.

Something else I didn't take into consideration was how the holidays were going to affect my writing schedule. As much as it pains me to admit it, I've taken more days off while doing this one than in all the others combined. That's not from lack of desire to tell the tale, though. It's just how things have panned out. The day job, work Christmas parties, shopping for the kids and the wife, visits to family for holiday dinners, all of it is enough to wear anybody out. Figure doing two full-time jobs on top of all that, and exhaustion doesn't begin to cover it.

I'm a little disappointed in myself for this, even though maybe I shouldn't be. I mean, since July I've finished first drafts on five novels (and am at least 2/3 done with a sixth, I think), second drafts on three of those, about halfway through the second draft on a fourth, and done a third and fourth draft on one of them. Two have been submitted to potential publishers, and I have laid the groundwork for self-publishing whichever ones don't get picked up by a traditional publisher. I also started revising another novel I finished years ago, and am about a quarter of the way done with that. That's a heck of a lot of work to get done in just under six months. And I'm proud of that. Maybe it's only right that I take a few extra days off; it just makes me feel guilty to do it. Not like I'm letting any of you all down--hard to do that when I haven't released anything for you to pick up and read yet, right? More like I'm letting myself down. Foolish maybe, but there it is.

On top of all that, in case you've been living in a cave for the last year or so, the new Star Wars movie came out. If you never picked up on it before, I'm a geek. That means I've been waiting on this for a while. Saw it today; that's why I didn't get any editing done on the second draft of One Last Dance. Totally worth it, though. Thank you, J.J. Abrams, THAT was the Star Wars I remembered from being a kid.

I'm hoping that once the new year rolls around and all the major holidays are over I can get back on my normal schedule where I do my first draft work every night and edit throughout the week so I can put the changes in the computer every Monday. Maybe it won't, but that's my hopes at least.

In the meantime, I'm now hoping to be done with Hidden Heart just after the first of the year, at which point I'll be starting on the fourth (and possibly last; we'll see) Cochran book. After that I have another idea for a standalone in mind, and after that, well, I guess we'll know when we get there, won't we?

And since I probably won't post before then, all of you have a very Merry Christmas, and a glorious New Year!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Capaldi is Officially My Doctor: A Season Nine Review

I debated on holding off on this until after the Christmas special, but since that traditionally counts as part of the following season, I’ll just go ahead and do it now. Partly because it’s fresh in my mind, and partly because since the Christmas special isn’t going to connect to the rest of this season, it should be judged on its own merits.

Oh, and before I forget: "SPOILERS!"

Which makes it sound a little like I’m going to not say very nice things, but that’s not exactly the case. This season was a complete mixed bag, if I’m honest. There was plenty to like, but there was plenty to not like as well.

That being said, I guess I can start with some overall impressions.

This season was different for the reboot in that we got multi-part episodes for the first time. This actually turned out to be a good thing, despite many Saturday nights spent cursing at Stephen Moffet for those cliffhangers. It was a return to the Classic era, where storylines might be broken up over several weeks before the payoff. A perfect example, and one with ties to this season as well, is the Fourth Doctor’s Genesis of the Daleks arc, which was a six-parter when it came out.

It needed this, though. It allowed the stories to breathe, to suck us in and make us care about not only the Doctor and Clara, but about the people they were helping as well. This was an advantage for the Classic Who, and it was put to good use here.

Another high point: Peter Capaldi. From the moment we saw him on that tank playing guitar, we knew he was proving his ownership of the role. And for the majority of the season, he continued to do that. This season was the one where Capaldi officially became my Doctor. After that speech at the end of The Zygon Inversion, how could he not?

Unfortunately, for all the good there was some bad, so let’s go story by story and break it down.

The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar: We were off to a massive start here. Michelle Gonzales was back as Missy, Davros returned, and we had a reference back to the aforementioned Genesis of the Daleks. The story played perfectly and enhanced the relationship between the Doctor and the Master / Mistress as well as showing why Davros is the Doctor’s archenemy, not his Time Lord counterpart. That Davros could play on the Doctor’s guilt and compassion in order to trick him into giving him what he wanted showed not only the Doctor’s inevitable fallibility, but Davros’s own genius as well. THIS is the man I could believe made the Daleks.

And learning that no matter what a Dalek said they felt, the machine they are in forces it to come out as “Exterminate!” was brilliant. Weapons fueled by pure emotion. For a Dalek, there is probably no greater threat.

On the other hand, this was where the first crack appeared in the overall story for the season. The prophecy of a hybrid was mentioned. The issue isn’t that the prophecy existed, mind you. My initial reaction that someone would create a Time Lord / Dalek hybrid was that it would be unstoppable and worth fearing. The problem was that Missy mentioned it in what felt like a throwaway line that indicated it was a massive, all-important thing. If that’s the case, why are we just now hearing about it for the first time in over fifty years of Doctor Who? All that time the previous Doctors spent on Gallifrey, all the angst 9, 10, and even 11 felt, and this never comes up? I think I could have even handled it being an expansion on the Valeyard from the Classic era, really make a connection back, but it was a standalone that felt a bit out of place here.

Otherwise, a great start to season 9!

Under the Lake / Before the Flood: The Doctor Who ghost story. Again, a well thought-out and executed story, even though it felt like it was better suited for seventy minutes rather than ninety. Seeing how the Doctor used his ability to play with time to solve a mystery was nice, and it took him away from Clara and allowed Capaldi to fly on his own for a while, too. Again, brilliant.

The Girl Who Died / The Woman Who Lived: Maise Williams guest stars, and while it was strange at first to see Arya Stark in the Whoniverse, I managed to get over it quickly. She was able to show that she is quite a capable actress, and quickly managed to win me over as Ashildr. It was also nice to see how the Doctor’s best intentions could backfire, as he saved her life, but at the cost of her soul. A strange sort of vampirism, maybe? Still, to see him create an immortal who would come back to haunt him later on was a nice way to show that he shouldn’t meddle so much, but he’ll never stop.
And while it was rewarding to see the matter of Capaldi’s appearance in the Tenth Doctor’s The Fires of Pompeii addressed, and why that face was chosen, it felt like a bit of a let-down once it was all said and done. Still, they didn’t just ignore it like it could have been, so thanks for that. I just wish it had been more… impactful.

The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion: The story of returns, and on reflection one of the better stories of the season. We referenced back to the Fiftieth Anniversary Special and the Zygon peace treaty, we got the return of UNIT, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, and best of all, OSGOOD! At first it annoyed me that they didn’t let us know for sure it was the human version that was back, but once her personality reemerged in the second part of the story, I was willing to forgive them for that.

And that speech. Here we see the Doctor that lived through the Time War, who consigned two races to death or exile from the universe, and who understands more than any living thing what the ravages of war can do to someone. This is not the fun Doctor of the Matt Smith era, nor the emotionally scarred one of the Tennant era. This is what Eccelston’s Doctor would have been like if he never met Rose. This is the War Doctor, one step removed. And honestly? He’s terrifying. If there was anyone I would never want to cross, it’s this man.

The only real bad thing I can think of from this story is that the Zygon weapons turned people into electrified Brillo pads. Still, it hearkened back to the man-in-a-rubber-suit days of the Classic era, so I can overlook that as well.

Sleep No More: The only standalone episode of the season, and it felt like it. The concept of a monster made from the crust in your eyes after sleeping was a good one, and it also had the distinction of being something new for the series. I would have liked to have seen it expounded upon more, especially considering how disjointed the episode felt as it rushed through toward a conclusion. 

It stood out for that, and that’s not a good thing.

For the finale, I’m going episode by episode, rather than the arc as a whole.

Face the Raven: We all knew this was Clara’s last run as the Doctor’s companion, and for many it was a season too long. And here it was: the moment of her last hurrah. Or so we thought.

The setup felt like just that—setup. Its only purpose was to put Clara in position to meet her end. And Ashildr’s only purpose was to provide that. I would have almost preferred to see Missy play this role, but considering who was behind it all, that wouldn’t make much sense. No offense to Maise Williams here, but this felt like an excuse to include her character. At least it felt better here than it did later on, but I’m not there yet…

Clara’s death was actually well-done. For too long now, fans have been complaining that Clara thought she was the Doctor, and it was somewhat satisfying to see that it was this very flaw that got her killed. It was a fitting end for the Impossible Girl, even if the season-long foreshadowing felt a bit heavy-handed.

And the Doctor’s response to it, his statement to Ashildr that he had been lost long ago, showed a man who knew such a thing was inevitable yet was powerless to stop it. He knows he’s playing with fire, but does it because it’s his nature. He knows his limits as well, and knew Clara would never understand that concept. When he teleported out to meet his fate, he did so with anger burning inside him again, and that could mean serious trouble for whomever was meeting him on the other side.

Heaven Sent: That he was meeting himself, in a sense, was the perfect answer to that. This episode had moments of brilliance and a concept that was well-worth exploring. As a fan of his performance, I loved it: stick Capaldi in front of a camera and let him go nuts. Awesome.

Then we get to the ending.

This is the single most confusing, convoluted mess I have ever seen in Doctor Who. Timey Wimey? This is so far beyond that it doesn’t even warrant its own amusing catchphrase. Is the Doctor really the Doctor anymore, or a clone of himself? Is he over four billion years old now, or still the same age he was when his image was trapped in the teleport? And does Stephen Moffett even know? Somehow I doubt that last one. I think this was a case of throwing something against the wall to see if it stuck.

And it was all about this suddenly all-important prophecy of a hybrid? Of all the Doctor’s enemies, of all the reasons why someone would do this to him, we went with that? If you say so, but you can do better.

We all know the Doctor is unstoppable, but to show that he’s so stubborn he won’t even die properly has already been done before. Remember The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End? Shot by a Dalek, regenerated into the same face he already had. The Time of the Doctor? GOT TWELVE MORE REGENERATIONS! His tenacity is already well established. Let’s not beat a dead horse for four billion years here.

And yet, that ending. He was in his confession dial the whole time. Brilliant. The desert planet, panning up to see the city in the distance. Back on Gallifrey, at long last. Again, brilliant. “Tell them I’m back. Tell them I took the long way ‘round.” I’d run, what about you?

So. Much. Potential.

And yet….

Hell Bent: Clara’s alive and in the same diner where Eleven brought Amy and Rory and River after River murdered him? Okay, what? Must be in his head, right? Still, loved the guitar version of Clara’s theme.

Back on Gallifrey, back where he and the Moment changed the planet’s fate. When he drew that line in the sand and then ignored everyone who came for him until Rassilon himself showed up, I was cheering. When he faced off against Rassilon and told him to “get off my planet”, again, cheering. 

Then we’re back on the hybrid bandwagon. He’s willing to tell them what they want to know, only he needs someone’s help.



You would think the Doctor never lost a companion before. Even the revived series has addressed it. Rose: trapped in a parallel dimension that is sealed to time. Ten got over it. Donna Noble: had to have her memories wiped or her brain would fry. Ten dealt with it. Amy and Rory: displaced into the past, which then becomes time-locked. Eleven coped.

But when Clara dies because she wasn’t smart enough to know she wasn’t the Doctor? He loses his mind, hijacks his homeworld, shoots one of his own kind and forces a regeneration (and can I just point out that they handled it a lot better than the Doctor ever did, despite having nowhere near the experience with it that he does?), kidnaps a dead woman, and tries to bring her back to life.

Again, seriously?

He then steals another TARDIS and takes her to the end of time itself where Gallifrey’s burning and who’s sitting there watching it happen? Not Missy, though in this case I insist it should have been. Ashildr. She lectures him on his stupidity, which was brilliant. His plan is to do a Donna on Clara and make her forget him so she can live a normal life. While that was a stretch, I can at least accept it.

Then it goes haywire and made me curse at Moffett for the wrong reasons.

Clara overhears, because naturally, and reprograms the neural device so it will work on him instead. He doesn’t believe her, and tells her they’ll take the chance together.

This could have been salvaged at this point. He begins telling her goodbye, and then she collapses. He’s visiting her at the diner in Nevada as a final farewell. That would be the best ending.

But does that happen? No. Clara manages to outsmart the Doctor, steals a TARDIS of her own, and flies off with Ashildr. In effect, she becomes the Doctor, even with her own companion.

No. Just, no.

Things began so well, then went wildly off-course. The season had its moments, namely those where Capaldi proved the role was his and who were those guys named Smith and Tennant anyway? We got stories that felt fleshed out and full. We got Osgood back, and Missy who was awesome as usual.

We also got a random rumor about a hybrid and Clara becoming the Doctor like she already thought she was, despite this already getting her killed.

And lest I be accused of Clara-bashing here, I'm not. Really. When she showed up as the new companion for Eleven post-Amy and Rory, I was willing to give her a chance. I ended up liking the entire "Impossible Girl" story arc, even if it did come off a little Mary Sue at times. When Eleven regenerated to Twelve, it made sense for her to stick around, give a little familiarity while all of us got used to the Doctor's new face along with him. It was here that she started to almost overshadow the Doctor, and since he's the titular character, that's not good. Had they left her alone at the end of Last Christmas, having aged without the Doctor, I would have been fine. She just held on a season too long, that's all. Her entire character arc this time around was "I'm just as good at being the Doctor as the Doctor, so watch what happens." No, you aren't, and it should have gotten you killed. The only reason you survived is... well... bad writing.

River Song is back in the Christmas Special (the interestingly named Husbands of River Song), and next season introduces a new companion altogether which means it’s a fresh story again, so this can be redeemed. Just please, for the sake of us who love the show, don’t play fan service with yourself anymore, Mister Moffett. Give us back the Doctor / Companion relationship that made the show work for over fifty years. Let the character not only think he's the most clever person in the room, but show it's the truth.

Above all, remember there’s only one Doctor.

And for now, thankfully, that’s Peter Capaldi.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


This one is something different for me, not simply an update on where I'm at with the writing, but a full-scale catch up on me and the things I've posted about on this blog before. In other words, a whole bunch'a ramblin' just because I felt like doing a post.

First, the writing. As you can see from the progress meter, Blood Games is officially done with the first draft. The Cochran books are now an official trilogy. That won't last long, because book four is on the horizon once I finish the current project, but it's still an accomplishment, right? I am now working my way through the first draft of Hidden Heart, the haunted house story I had in mind. This one is pretty tough, but in a good way. I think. See, it was always meant to be subtle. Sometimes I have a hard time with that. I'm eight chapters in now, and honestly not a lot has happened. Some things have, enough that the reader will realize there's more to the house in question than the current owner does anyway, but the poo hasn't hit the rotating blades yet, to modify a phrase. Soon, I think, since we're closing in on the end of the first act and the start of the second, but not yet. Hopefully everyone will like it once it's finished, as it's a complete change of pace for me. I guess we'll see.

I've been sick the last couple of days, so I didn't get much done on the editing front, hence no change to the progress meter for it. I tinkered with both One Last Dance and Homecoming, but not enough to amount to anything. Hopefully I'm over whatever bug this is in the next couple of days so I can get caught up there.

Still no response on either of the two submissions I have out there. I did reach out to a friend on Facebook who's going to school for graphic design about a cover for Consequences should it come to that, but I'm still holding out hope for a good response from one or the other.

Let's see, what else is going on...

I guess the biggest news is that I'm trying to quit smoking again. I went to vaping, since my primary motivation was a desire to keep my chest from hurting so bad whenever I woke up every morning. So far, so good. I've been doing it for about three weeks now, and I've reached the point where regular cigarettes taste like crap. Three days now, and I've only gotten my nicotine fix through vaping. I also managed to drop from the 18mg of nicotine that I started on to 12mg currently. Hopefully I'll be able to drop that again soon to 6mg. I don't know that I'll drop all the way to 0, but it's been a huge improvement so far. I can actually breathe now, and that's really what I was hoping for all along.

On the geeekdom front, I finally got to watch Jessica Jones on Netflix, and I have to say I'm impressed. I'm not as stoked for a Luke Cage series now since I kinda got my fix for him with this one, but at the same time Marvel is doing well with their mature-themed series. The little nods to the MCU make it even better. If only DC could catch a clue with Arrow, Flash, and the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow. But I've already made that point, so I'll move on.

On the DC front, Arrow and Flash are both turning out strong seasons, with Flash easily getting over the sophomore slump and Arrow taking things in a new direction with Green Arrow and the addition of mysticism to the universe. Have to say, so far the highlight was seeing John Constantine show up in Arrow using the same actor from the cancelled Constantine. Love the actor in that role, now someone needs to pick the series back up and do it justice.

I caught the first episode of Supergirl, and while it wasn't what I expected, it was far from being bad. Still, a superhero show nowadays needs to do more than just "cute" to work, at least for me.

I wasn't too sure about this season of Doctor Who, but they finally won me over. The two-part episodes felt like a throwback to the classic series where it might take six episodes to tell one story. On the whole, it's been a strong season, with only one or two episodes that made me feel "meh" about the whole thing. We got Osgood back, and in a way that made sense, and Capaldi has proven beyond any doubt that he IS the Doctor. His speech at the end of Face the Raven actually sent chills down my back. And last week's strange, mindbender of an episode was the perfect intermission between the events of Face the Raven and the potentially massive season finale coming up this Saturday.

Ash vs. Evil Dead. What can I say? It's Bruce Campbell as Ash, it's got the Necronomicon, deadites, blood, gore, and cheese. It's thirty minutes of heaven every episode.

The last trailer for The Force Awakens actually got me interested. I still wish they hadn't canned the entire EU (although there's truthfully not a lot I'll miss from it), but I'm willing to give it a chance, and I'm going to be standing in line in a couple weeks waiting to see if it lives up to the considerable hype.

The Avengers 2.5... I mean the Captain America: Civil War trailer was incredible as well. I can't wait to see how this plays out, but they've got me involved either way. "I have to do this," Cap says. "He's my friend." "Yeah, so was I." Tony replied, his voice sad. Chills.

That pretty well sums me up for the moment. Once Doctor Who is done (including the Christmas special - can't leave out River) I'll do an overall season review on here. We'll see if I'm excited enough about Star Wars to do the same for it. Otherwise, I'll keep everyone updated on the writing progress and attempts at publication as the news comes in.

See you next time!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Quick Progress Update

Hopefully I can do this one without rambling too much. Just a quick little note about how everything's going.

The third Cochran Investigations book, Blood Games, is on track to have the first draft finished by Thanksgiving at the latest. It's looking like it'll be the shortest of them so far, but it still might surprise me. I've wrapped up most of the subplots aside from the final acts on them, and am well into act three on the main plot, so hopefully this one is racing toward the finish line.

Once that one's done, I'll be starting on another standalone. This time it's a haunted house tale I'm really looking forward to digging into. The initial working title is Hidden Heart, and if it plays out like I expect it to, it will be less blood and more subtle creep factor. At least that's the intent. I suppose I'll know for sure once that first draft is done.

The second draft on The Journal of Jeremy Todd is finished, and if I get a full manuscript request I'll just have to format it and send it out. I personally can't believe I finished this draft this fast, and I swear I hope to never have to try that again. My brain was hurting by the time it was done.

Since that's finished, I'll go back to the edits on One Last Dance to try and get the second draft of that one done as well.

OLD and Journal are both in the hands of beta readers now, along with Demon at the Window, so I'll be waiting on feedback there before I start on any further drafts of those.

Since I need to take a break before starting the edits on Blood Games, I'll use my normal editing time to try and get Homecoming finished up.

On the submission and potential publication fronts, since the open submission period for Sinister Grin runs until the end of the month, I'm not expecting to hear back from them about Journal until sometime after that. They didn't give a lead time on their guidelines page, but I'm figuring up to six weeks there. Consequences is now past the halfway point in the waiting period on it (December 9 will be 12 weeks, and I could have to wait up to 16), so I'm not out of the running yet. I know the publisher was going through some editorial staff changes in regard to their horror line, so I don't know if that will affect anything or not. I've seen nothing on their site to indicate it, so I have to assume the original wait time remains in effect until I hear differently.

And that's it, you're all caught up! I'll update again once I finish Blood Games, or if I get a publisher response I can talk about, whichever comes first!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Another Wait Begins

I mentioned in my last entry that one of my top 2 publisher choices opened up submissions until the end of the month. Well, now I'm in the waiting game with them.

I just submitted the first fifteen pages of The Journal of Jeremy Todd to Sinister Grin Press for consideration.

I didn't want to announce I'd done it until I was confident that I was going to have the cleaned up version completed before that deadline. Well, since I just crossed the 60% mark in three days, I'm confident I'm going to pull it off. Following the pace I've been working on it, I should have the new draft completed by this weekend. Since I doubt I'll be hearing back from them by then (though I suppose it could happen, since they're only asking for the first fifteen pages from each submission), I should have time to spare.

Why didn't I wait until the new draft was completely done? Simple. My nerves were getting to me. If I didn't do it now, I might have ended up talking myself out of it. Better to do it while the irons were hot, so to speak. Since every person who read over those fifteen pages after I had them ready DEMANDED more, it felt like maybe I had something there.

Or maybe I didn't. I'm always the harshest critic of my own work, and have a healthy dose of paranoia to boot, so I guess we'll wait and see.

If it's a full manuscript request, I'll do a happy dance and send it off to wait again. If it's a so sorry, thanks but no thanks, well, it's not like I'm in any worse position than I am right now, is it? I'll dust myself off and move on.

But for tonight, I'm going to watch the new episode of Arrow and then dream about that hopeful final "yes". I'll face reality when I have to. Isn't that the easiest way to do it?

Heh, and now I hear Aerosmith in my head. Thanks, Stephen Tyler. I think I will dream until my dream comes true....

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Two At Once?

In case you pay attention to the progress meter regularly, you may have noticed that The Journal of Jeremy Todd has been changed to reflect the second draft is starting on it, even while I have yet to finish the second draft of One Last Dance. There is a reason for it, and it's a good one.

This might end up changing some things, too. I don't know yet, but here's what's happening.

When you're an aspiring author who has no money, like me, you tend to shoot for traditional publishing before going the self-pub route. There's one reason for it, one thing that makes the lower royalty rates seem worth it. To avoid paying for an independent editor and cover art. I'm guilty as charged here, though I feel I have to say not once have I ruled out self-publishing as a viable option. But if I can save some money on the front end by taking a little less on the back end, I'm okay with that. I'm doing this because it's what I feel compelled to do, not because I expect to get rich at it. I have a day job to pay the bills; this is just to give me fulfillment in my craft, my life, and help me to make the dream of having people pay to read my work come true.

There's a problem with this, however, and I'm sure I'm not the only author who's come across it. You have to find a balance between quality and that desire that's driving you. It's why I'm willing to pay some money if I have to in order to self-publish. It's why I researched the options before deciding on my course of action should I go that route. I'd go into detail on what my plan is in that regard and why, but it's not relevant to this.

The thing that made me bang my head against my keyboard was that so few small horror publishers are accepting submissions right now (not trying for one of the big five because of that balance I mentioned. Not getting into it here, but Google "Author Royalties Agency Model" or spend some time reading through J.A. Konrath's blog, conveniently linked at the lower right of this page as "A Newbie's Guide to Publishing", and you'll understand). Many of the ones that are fall when weighed on that balance of quality versus desire. I have the desire, they can't provide the quality I want.

Then today I discovered that one of my top two choices (the other being where I sent Consequences), the one that was closed for submissions when I started researching, is now opening their submission channel until the end of the month. That's not a very big window.

In submitting for potential publication, there's this thing called "Simultaneous Submissions". Basically, it means submitting the same work to multiple potential publishers at the same time. Some allow it, some don't. Since there was nothing stating one way or the other on this publisher's guidelines page, and since sending Consequences there as well would feel like giving up on the other one when it's halfway through it's waiting period, I found myself in a pickle about how I should proceed.

Let me go ahead and say there were other factors involved in making that pickle. I'm not getting into them here either, because I'm not going to comment on the situation one way or the other since my gut says one thing, my brain another, and my heart yet another. But there was something I had to take into consideration while I debated with myself.

Ultimately, here were my options:

1. Send Consequences to both and hope one said yes. Fifty fifty odds, right? Or would that be one in four since both companies could say yes or no? I'm not good with calculating probabilities, and like Han Solo said, "never tell me the odds".

2. Withdraw Consequences from consideration and submit it to the other publisher. Like I said, giving up when it's just now at the halfway point in the wait time I was given.

3. Submit something else to the other publisher.

Since I know Consequences has to come out before the Cochran books do, there's only one other option to send. And considering the publisher I'm looking at here, it might actually be a really good fit. Better than the one I sent Consequences to would be.

So I made a decision. I'm going with number 3.

The second draft of One Last Dance is going on hold for the time being, so I can try and hammer out a submittable draft of Jeremy Todd. Technically, since the submission only wants the first fifteen pages, I could just focus on those, send it in, and call it a day. But if they ask for a complete manuscript, then what? I've just screwed myself. So I'm going to polish those fifteen pages and send them in, then polish the rest in preparation in case I get a full manuscript request. Ergo, Jeremy Todd takes precedence over any other revisions in my personal pipeline.

I'm not mentioning publisher names yet because I'm not a hundred percent sure I can pull this off. I'm going to try like hell, though. If I manage it, you'll know about it and I'll give you the dirty details here. If I don't, well, they'll take submissions again at some point, and at least I'll know I gave it a shot.

So here's to hoping, and let's see how strong my desire really is.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Where Did That Come From?

You are seeing things correctly. There is a new listing on the progress meter, it has never been up there before, and it is already listed as a third draft in progress. I can explain.

Back in 2005, I started what ended up being my first original novel. I freely admit I really had no idea what I was doing with the actual writing craft part of it, but I knew it was a story I wanted to tell. I finished it in 2006, a year and a half later, and then filed it away.

Some time passed, and I found myself working in a bookstore in a college town. Someone I worked with there, a lovely woman named Patti, was an English major and agreed to do an edit on the first draft for me. When I got the manuscript back from her, I was floored. Stephen King mentions in On Writing how he reacted the first time he ever saw one of his pieces of writing edited. All I can say is that reading is one thing, seeing is something completely different. And this wasn't even from a professional editor, just someone who knew what they were doing.

Out of the nearly 270 pages I gave her, maybe five did not contain markings of some sort. It opened my eyes to the process, and I was re-energized. I wanted to make this work. I started banking on it, to a degree.

Let me go ahead and say it now: while I thought I understood how the publishing industry worked, I truly had no clue. The other thing I neglected to take into consideration was that the economy was bottoming out due to the recession, and the industry was shifting into eBooks, which were nothing more than a novelty at this point. We won't even touch the fact that I was a first-time, never before published author who was expecting his first submitted work of any kind to be the ticket to fortunes. Bottom line, I was an idiot. But I digress.

I got to work and finished a second draft at the end of 2007. Thinking the book was as done as it could get (hilarious to look back at now, but that was what I thought), I pulled out a copy of the Writer's Guide and queried a bunch of agents. I did get one request for the full manuscript, which I sent off gleefully only to be told they didn't feel passionate enough about it to offer me representation. I know now that it was a polite way of saying it wasn't good enough.

Life took over, I got discouraged, and into a manuscript box and the depths of my hard drive it went.

Fast forward to now.

I sat down and wrote Consequences with the intent of trying for publication through a small press, or doing it myself if no one bit. While working on it, I realized that if I did self publish, there were these things called formatting guidelines to follow if I didn't want it to look like something a five-year-old threw together one rainy afternoon. Several people offered to do it for a price, usually $200 and up, but since I'm not exactly rolling in cash here, I decided why pay for it if I could learn to do it myself with a little work? Only I didn't have a finished manuscript to practice with.

So I dug through my hard drive and digitally dusted off Homecoming. As I worked on formatting, I realized there were parts of the book that weren't that bad. With a little polish, it might even be salvageable. Then I finished Consequences, moved on to Demon and the rest and forgot about it. Sort of.

It sat in the back of my head. See, this was my first, and you never forget your first. So I decided to conduct a little experiment. I was going to teach myself how to edit using Word's "Track Changes" feature, since any professional editor I use nowadays will be using the same method. In doing so, I was also going to see if I could breathe some new life into this old manuscript, maybe apply some of the things I learned in the intervening years and make it something I would be willing to put out there for other people to read and not wince any time someone brought it up.

The first step? Clean up. It took no time at all to realize that I had no idea how to properly format a manuscript, even in draft form, back when I started this one. Since I now use a Word template already set up with the styles I need for new projects, I copied and pasted the entire mess into the template, then spent roughly six hours fixing my old formatting errors. Once that was done, it was time to start playing Doctor Frankenstein.

I decided to go from scene start to scene break: make the edit notes, copy and paste it into a new document, then make changes. I learned a few things in doing this. First, I had no idea how to break chapters properly. Chapter one became chapters one and two pretty quickly. Same for two becoming three and four. I'm sure more will appear as I go, too. Second, there is definitely something to be said for letting something rest for such a long period of time before approaching it again. As I write this, I've got fifty pages into what is effectively the third draft but feels more like a complete rewrite. Out of that fifty pages, I've made 480 edit comments. On some pages, Word has to collapse all the notes because they won't fit in the margin of the page otherwise. Honestly, it's made me a little afraid to see what a professional editor would do to one of my manuscripts that I've already done four drafts on. Excuse me while I shiver uncontrollably for a second.

The third and fourth things I learned I'll put together, since they belong that way. I've gotten better at my craft since that first attempt. To my mind, the fact that I have that many notes in such a short span reinforces that fact. Everything I've changed, removed, reordered, or rewritten has made the story stronger. But that only makes sense, because like any other craft, writing can only be perfected through practice.

Homecoming was not the only thing I wrote in the years between when I first started it and when I developed the work ethic I have now with it. While I have no plans to give those stories the same treatment I'm giving this one (though I'm not ruling it out, either), I have a funny feeling that if I did, I'd be able to see improvement with each successive one. Since I got serious serious about this in July, I've finished four more first drafts and am almost halfway through a fifth. But there's even more than that, if you think about it. I did four drafts of Consequences before I submitted it, and I'm about to start the third for Demon at the Window, and am in the midst of the second for One Last Dance. That means, in a sense, eight complete books, plus two halves (first for the current one, second for OLD), so nine books since July. I'm not tooting my horn about being prolific; just reinforcing the bit about practice bringing improvements.

I have no idea if I'll be satisfied with the final result of this experiment, whether or not I'll call it a success or a failure, but it's definitely been a learning experience. I feel good about it, at least for now. So it goes on the progress meter. If it doesn't work, I'll remove it again. But maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to someday get to see that dream of having Homecoming with a cover and binding in my hands and yours.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Everything's "Groovy": The King is Back!

Happy Halloween! Hope everyone had a wonderful day of creeps, ghouls, and goblins! Mine didn't start out that way, since I had to work at the day job, but it's sure ending on a much better note.

See, I thought by working that shift today, I was going to miss out on something I'd been looking forward to for months officially, and twenty years unofficially. But I came home, checked On Demand, and there it was on the main page. I went into it hopeful but not expectant. I was rewarded. I immediately started it up and for the next forty-five minutes or so sat on my couch with a grin that wouldn't go away.

I'm talking, of course, about the premiere of Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz tonight. After seeing the trailers and hearing everyone talk about it, I was psyched. After hearing the feedback when they debuted the first episode at New York Comic Con, I was delirious. Now that I've actually seen it, I'm ecstatic.

Ash is back, and baby he's better than ever. Well, not really. He's actually worse of an idiot than he was in Army of Darkness, but isn't that what we wanted? He's older, but not really wiser. Unless it's about fighting Deadites. Then there's nobody better.

It's been thirty years since Ash faced the armies of the dead and saved the day. He lives in a run-down trailer and is still a stock boy at ValueMart (who we can assume bought out S-Mart at some point). He spends his nights looking for that one last lonely drunk woman at the bar just before closing time, and doing stupid things with the Necronomicon that even he regrets. When the result is the return of the evil he thought he defeated, the results are carnage, slapstick, and buckets of the red stuff.

Seeing how this plays out, I have to wonder how long Bruce Campbell, Sam Raimi, and Rob Tapert have been wanting to do this. It's obvious they're having fun revisiting this world, and it's also obvious they're trying to do things right while not taking anything too seriously. From Sam's frenetic camera movements to Bruce gleefully chewing the scenery every time a camera's pointed at him, it's that taste of the familiar in a whole new way.

I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil it for any of you who haven't been lucky enough to see it yet. What I will say is that when the credits rolled, I applauded from my sofa, laughing my head off, and drew some strange looks from my beagle who I apparently woke up with my enjoyment. The weeks will not go fast enough between these episodes, and I definitely see myself binge watching the entire ten episode run at the end of all this. I'm sure even that won't be enough, but not to worry! Starz has already renewed the show for a second season, even before the first episode hit the airwaves.

Will it go on for a long run? I doubt it, but then again, why should it? This is the Evil Dead 4 we could never have dreamed of in a million years. What I am curious to see is the impact this has on television in the future. If it's anywhere close to what Raimi and company did for the horror movie industry since that first low-budget splatterfest in 1981, we horror fans should be in for an interesting time to come.

Bottom line: stop reading this review, go find the show, and watch it. When it's over, watch it again, then you can wait breathlessly for the next episode like the rest of us!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Another One Done, Another Begun: A Status Report

The Journal of Jeremy Todd has now officially landed in the "Completed" category. It ended up weighing in at just over 64k words, or just enough to make it hard for me to classify. I'm going to stick with "short novel" instead of novella, since the formatted and printed version I gave my wife to read (since she gets 'em all first) was right at 200 pages.

As with the Cochran books, there's no release date set on this one yet, though I think it will be the next one I submit to Samhain once they give me a response on Consequences. Time will tell. I'm going to let it settle for a while before I start on the second draft, mainly because it ended up being such a dark book that I need to play with something lighter for a bit.

To that end, I'm now working on the third Cochran book. It's called Blood Games, and the case is already laid out. Now Cochran just has to see it through.

On the later draft fronts, I've finished the second draft of Demon at the Window, and am now working on the edits for One Last Dance. Once those are done I'll go back and do the third draft of DatW since I should have some feedback from the betas on it.

If you're curious, here's my timeline for what I'll be working on, and when it might be finished. Pay attention to that "might" in there, since I'm not actually setting deadlines for myself yet. These are only estimates based on what I've been doing up until now:

Blood Games, First Draft: Expected completion around the beginning of December.

One Last Dance, Second Draft: Should be done sometime around Thanksgiving.

Untitled Standalone Novel, First Draft: The idea's there, and I'll start on it right after BG, so let's say New Year's at the earliest.

Demon at the Window, Third Draft: shooting for Christmas to have this one done.

The Journal of Jeremy Todd, Second Draft: It's shorter, so the second week of January is likely. I'm also thinking this will be the final draft of this one. If I fiddle with it too much, I think it'll stop feeling like it was written by the narrator.

Untitled Cochran #4, First Draft: I've only got the barest idea of a story for this one, but hopefully it will manifest by the time I'm done with the standalone. Let's go with the beginning of February on this one.

One Last Dance, Third Draft: Also shooting for late January / early February on this one.

As you can see, I plan to stay busy for a while.

Now for a couple of not-so-good news announcements.

First, as you can see by the removal of it from the progress meter, Justicar is back in a holding pattern. I don't want to abandon it entirely, but I've got too much running through my mind in the horror genre to be able to fit it back into my work schedule. If nothing more demanding pops up, I'll try and get back to it after Cochran #4, but no promises, either to you or to myself.

Also, at this point it looks like Cochran #4 will be the last of them for the foreseeable future, as much as it pains me to admit that. There's only so many stories I can tell with those characters before it starts feeling like it's cliche or I'm repeating myself. I'd rather keep them fresh and fun. If I try and force it, I'm going to destroy both of those things. I love these characters, and hate to think they've got a final tale on the horizon, but that's how it's starting to look. On the bright side, I do have an Alexis-centric short story I want to tell when the time's right. It'll be a Christmas present to you guys at some point in the future, that's all I'll say about it.

And that's it for now! Another night of productivity complete, now on to the next!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Another Title Change

After some careful thought, I have changed the name of The Ideal Companion Journal to The Journal of Jeremy Todd. It was starting to bother me that my narrator didn't even have a name, and the original title felt a bit clunky and awkward. This one fits a little better, and gives the guy a real identity.

Strangely, by doing this, I no longer despise him the way I did at first. Maybe because with a name attached, I can identify with him a little more. I still don't like him, but at least I can tell his story a little easier now.

It's on track to be done within the next week or so, so keep watching for more news and to see what's up next!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Um, Did That Just Drop?

If you pay attention to the progress meter, you may have noticed that The Ideal Companion Journal moved in the wrong direction tonight. No, you're not losing your mind. It did. And there's a reason for it.

I've been working on this one with the assumption that it would be a novella of around 60,000 words. I was wrong. I just broke the 40k mark tonight, and there's still a lot for the narrator to do. More than 20,000 words or so can convey. So I've had to revise my original estimate.

It's now looking like it'll end up full novel length. That's not a bad thing, but it is surprising to me. It may change again once I start on the second draft; I may end up cutting a good bit of the first act that isn't really relevant to the story, but I won't really know until I go back and actually start on it.

So for now, I'm looking at around 75,000 words on this one. That still might not be enough, but another 35k sounds about right for what all is left to tell. But as I've demonstrated, I've been wrong before.

I guess we'll find out together.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Off to the Betas

The second draft of Demon at the Window is officially complete. Strangely, this one came in a little longer in length than the first draft did. I did add an extension to one scene to clarify something I mentioned and never fully answered, but I thought I'd still cut enough to make it shorter, like normal. Oh well.

The next step is to get this one formatted and then it goes out to the beta readers for feedback. While I wait for that to come in, I'll still be working on the first draft of The Ideal Companion Journal and will be starting the edits for the second draft of One Last Dance.

I'm moving through this stuff pretty quickly, but that's how I want it, the more that I've thought about it. If I do end up self-publishing this stuff, my goal is to release a book every three months, for a total of four a year. I'm not going to say that's how it will pan out, but that's the goal. I still plan on Consequences being first, and I suppose from there it will depend on whether or not I submit the Cochran books for publication or decide to do them on my own.

We shall see, I suppose!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

It's a Novella...

...or at least that's what it's looking like.

When I started this new project, I was a little intimidated by it. I'll admit that. The vehicle the story was going to use was not something I was expecting, nor was it something I'm used to. I thought it might end up being a short novel, or a novella, and now I think I have some confirmation of that.

Let me define my views on the difference, just to make sure we're clear.

If you ask an agent, or an editor, or a publisher, or even an author what the difference is between a novel and a novella, you're going to get several different answers. Generally speaking, a novella is something that's longer than a short story, but not as long as a novel. It's a weird gray area between them.

For me, I tend to define things by word count. Here's my basic premise, and keep in mind that novel word counts get broken down further based on genre in my mind:

Short Story: somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 - 10,000 words;
Novella: between 30,000 and 50,000 words, give or take;
Novel: 70,000+ words.

Like I said, that's the basics. A short novel could come in at around 60,000 words, while a long short story could weigh in at 20,000 or so. I also mentioned that I take genre into consideration. Since it does apply here, at least partially, I'll give you examples:

Romance / Cozy Mystery: 70,000 words;
Thriller / Suspense / Horror: 80,000 words;
Science Fiction: 90,000 words;
Fantasy: 100,000+ words.

There are no hard and fast rules to this, it's only what I generally have in my brain.

Anyway, you'll see that I have about a 20k buffer between the basic designations. If the work falls into less than that, it takes the form of the next designation in the list. Since novels are broken down further by genre, that's what sets the actual defining point.

So using my method, this project, which I'm now projecting at around 60,000 words, and is classified as a Horror story, is 20k less than the minimum I'll consider to be a horror novel. Ergo, it's a novella.

But I won't get mad if you call it a short novel.

Confused yet? I am, and I wrote it. Note to self, one less beer before doing a blog post.

At any rate, I'm thankful for the shorter goal for two big reasons.

First, this first person narrative in the form of a series of journal entries is going to wear thin pretty quick. Maybe there are authors out there who could keep it up for the length of an epic, but I'm not one of them. One of the cardinal rules for writing as far as I'm concerned is to write what you yourself would want to read. While this structure would be interesting for a change of pace, it's not something I would do for a long stretch.

Second, this is perhaps the darkest thing I've ever written. I don't want to give too much away about it, like I said in my last post, but I will tell you a couple of things. First, I'm thrilled that it's so dark. If it disturbs me, and I'm the one writing it, I'm pretty confident it will disturb you guys, too. That's what good horror does, right? Disturbs the reader / watcher? Well, I think this will qualify. Also, I really don't like this guy I'm writing about. I feel sorry for him, but I do not like him at all. He reminds me of Carrie White in Stephen King's Carrie. The biggest difference is that I'm having to be inside his head to write his story. Not as a bit of narrative, as in King's tale, but all the time. There are no other POV characters to jump to for relief. This adds to the disturbing nature, so it's doing what I want it to, but I will be so glad to be finished with him.

Yeah, this is going to be a one and done. No sequels here.

Of course, I say that now and in ten years when the idea for a sequel comes to me this post will come back to haunt me, too. But I doubt it.

So, to sum up. It's going to be a novella, or, if you prefer, a short novel. The percentage jump on the progress meter is due to the revision of the word count goal as much as it is a reflection of the actual work done tonight. It's dark and disturbing, and I hope you like it once it's done.

As for me, I'm starting to look forward to the next Cochran book. I need a little lightness in my writing life sometimes, and Jack and Alexis are good for that.

Sorry for the long post, and good night!

Friday, October 9, 2015

The New One

Since I am now three chapters in and have reached double digits on the progress percentage, I have officially added the new project to the progress meter.

I mentioned that it was different from what I've done before, and I think the title reflects that. For now, I'm calling it The Ideal Companion Journal. It is still a working title, and may change as the work goes on and more is developed, but that it for now.

No story details as of yet; I'm going to keep this one close to the chest, just because I'm not sure where it's going to end up. But with the writing I did on it tonight, I think I've found the stride for it so I'm at least confident I won't be shelving it any time soon. Will I actually push to publish this one? That I'm not so sure about yet, for a couple of simple enough reasons.

With any book, be it horror or science fiction or fantasy or whatever, the author needs to sum it up in a couple of sentences, and needs to provide a synopsis of it to any publisher they submit it to. With this one, I'm not sure if I can do that.

For all the rest, even if I haven't written them on paper yet, that description was pretty easy. It's the same as what you would see if you walk into any bookstore, pick up a paperback, and read the text on the back cover. With this one, I have no idea how to even begin to describe it. Maybe it'll come in time, as it gets further along. It's just that with the others, I could do it from the get-go. Maybe it changed slightly as it went on, as was the case when I was calling Consequences "Graduation Summer", but at least I had something. Here, I've got nothing.

For those who don't know, the synopsis a publisher wants is a two or three page document that tells the basics of your story from start to finish, twists, turns, and all. They want the beginning, middle, and end. There's no such thing as consideration for spoilers in one of these. For an example, go to IMDB, look for a television series, pick a random episode, and look for a synopsis. See how it gives away everything? Yeah, same goes for this, just longer.

As you can tell from the title, this one is written like a journal, or a diary if that's an easier way to look at it. That makes a synopsis difficult to write, because just like a journal, the main character jots down some pretty random thoughts. Again, this might be easier once the story's more developed, but right now it's a pretty daunting thought.

Another side effect of doing it this way is that it doesn't have traditional chapter breaks. Yeah, I know I call them that, just like I did in the intro to this post, but that's just to make it easier to explain. What it has are a progressive series of dates and times which comprise the journal entries. That makes things rather... interesting... yeah, we'll go with that. It makes things interesting when it comes to how the book is broken up.

So I don't know where this will end up. You'll know once I know, that much is certain. I will say that just from what I've done so far, this is one of the most difficult things I've ever written. Not just from the technical details, either. The story itself is already pretty damned disturbing. Of course, that's what makes good horror. If it freaks me out, odds are it will you, too. That's why I'm not stopping, and why I'm determined to finish it. Even if it never gets out of the beta reader stage, I think the results will be pretty interesting.

And now, sleep. Tomorrow, that long-delayed day off from the writing. Being inside this guy's head is, well, troublesome. I think I need a day to make sure I'm not slipping too far into him. Remember, I already know what this guy's planning deep down. It won't be pleasant. I'm starting to wonder if that goes for both of us, or just him.

Not really. I'm pretty stable, mentally, or at least no one seems overly concerned about me yet. But I keep remember Mark Ruffalo from The Avengers when he described Loki: "...his brain's a bag of cats." Yeah, that about sums my main character up.

Anyway, sleepy time! Good night, folks. Pleasant dreams!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

So I'm a Workaholic...

Okay, apparently I lied in my last post when I said I was taking a couple of days off from the writing. When my normal work time rolled around, I found myself in the same place as always, typing away on something new. But the way I see it, I have two late shifts coming up at the day job this week, so those would be better suited for taking off. Why not work when I actually have the time, and take a break when I don't, right?

So I started a new project. Despite what else I thought in that last post (which was just last night, for crying out loud), it is NOT the next Cochran book, nor is it my continuing with Justicar. It's something completely different.

It's horror, but more of a psychological variant rather than the gore or monsters I've been doing. The subject matter came to me, and I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I didn't know how to do it without straight up copying dozens of other writers who have done similar subjects in the past.

Then it came to me, and I wanted to get to work on it. So I did.

This is a departure for me, as it will be written in first person narrative (I did this, I saw that). Two things immediately became clear to me. First, this was going to almost demand I put myself into the shoes of my main character to a degree I never have before. Second, if I did that, it was going to end up this strange mish-mash of fact and fiction that might make some people in my life concerned about my well-being.

So let me put a disclaimer up right now, with only one chapter done. I AM NOT THE MAIN CHARACTER IN THIS NOVEL. HIS VIEWS ARE NOT MY OWN, NOR WOULD I ACT AS HE WILL OVER THE COURSE OF THE STORY.

Sorry to yell, just wanted to be clear on this point.

Yes, some of the things this character thinks or believes are the same as me. But the same could be said of many of my other characters, too. Just because he's the one telling the story does not mean he is an autobiographical representation of myself. There is no need to worry about my sanity any more than you might already. It is, as all novels are, a work of fiction.

Glad we got that out of the way.

I'm not going to say too much more about it. Like I said, only one chapter's done right now, and I honestly don't know how far along this one will go. I may reach a point where living in this guy's head is too much for me. Therefore, I'll only post more and add it to the progress meter once I'm confident it's going to go the distance. What I will say is that this one may end up as a novella rather than a full-length novel. Again, I don't know where this guy's going to take me.

But as soon as I know, so will you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

And Another One Down

I just typed the final words on the first draft of One Last Dance. It weighs in at just over 89,000 words, and 290 pages in MS Word format. It also now holds the distinction as the fastest first draft I have ever completed. Makes me think I actually should try the whole thing where you're supposed to do a novel in a month for a competition thing.

This is kind of a strange one, as I'm not sure how people are going to react to it. The subject matter is a little, I don't know, different from what I've done before. It's still a horror novel, but there are some subplots that actually get pretty emotional instead of scary. There's much less gore than Consequences or even DatW, so we'll see. I guess from here it'll be up to the beta readers to decide how far off course it is.

Here's what's next. Demon at the Window is almost to the completion mark on its second draft, then it goes out to the beta readers. This one, strangely, is more in demand than either of the other two I've done, so I suppose it will follow relatively soon. Once it's formatted, off to the beta readers it goes.

Which will be strange for me. I'll have two books in the hands of beta readers at the same time. Some will be the same, but there will be some new ones reading OLD that have not read DatW yet. While it's a bit unnerving for me to consider, it makes sense. I want the Cochran books to be a series, yet still accessible no matter which point you jump on board. By having people read this one before reading its predecessor, I can gauge how well I'm hitting that mark.

If you're waiting on it, give me a couple weeks to get it ready to go out. If you're not a beta reader and you're waiting on it, you'll have longer to wait. At least three more drafts and two other books to come out first.

Up next for me will be making the Cochran books a trilogy. The next one is tentatively titled Blood Games, and will resurrect the original case that came to mind when I first met the character years ago. I'm not sure exactly when I'll be starting on it, since I still have the prewriting phase to go on it (research, notes, etc.), and I do want to get back to Justicar at some point.

What I do know is that since I didn't take any during this one, I will take a couple of days off to let the old gray Duracell recharge. My "To Read" and "To Watch" lists are growing longer every day, and with precious little time for such things (since I devote most of my free time to actually seeing my family or working on my writing), I should take the opportunity to shrink them back down to manageable size. Who knows, maybe I can actually post a couple more blogs of reviews in the next couple of days.

Just don't hold your breath. Knowing myself as I do, I'll be writing again before I intended to. Ah well, I can sleep when I'm dead.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kiss It Slashers

I've been re-reading some comics lately, and I managed to rediscover one of my favorites and reminded myself why this was the case. Consider this a review / love letter for it, and if you are interested in reading it afterwards and haven't before, be forewarned: there be spoilers ahead.

Horror comics are a strange breed. If you think horror movies are hit or miss, you definitely have not read some of these. First off, the genre itself becomes exceptionally vague when it comes to this medium. Too many times, over the course of a series' run, it becomes more evidently fantasy, or science fiction, or just plain superhero tales. True horror comics are hard to come by, though they do exist.

As a reference point, I still have copies of old black and white stuff like GoreShriek and the oversize Nightmare on Elm Street. They were black and white not necessarily because of the low budget printing, but because the comics code authority would flip out if they were released with so much red on the page. I graduated to underground stuff like Cry For Dawn, an anthology series by Joseph Michael Linser and Joe Monks. Linser, for the record, is one of the most incredible artists I have ever seen. Think it didn't make an impact? I have a tattoo of the three tears logo from that series on my left arm.

Still, CFD only lasted nine issues. GoreShriek and NoES didn't last much longer (the latter was only two issues, at least in the form I'm referring to). Even Faust, Tim Vigil's classic Adults Only title didn't go that long. Finding a horror comic that went the distance was not an easy thing to do.

Then I discovered Hack / Slash by Tim Seeley.

The basic premise is this: Cassie Hack was the girl at school everyone picked on because she was poor, wasn't that pretty, and was just plain weird. Her mother, the school lunch lady, was not happy at how the other kids treated her precious daughter. Like most mothers, she wanted to protect her child. Unlike most mothers, she did it by killing the kids who made fun of Cassie and served them up to the other students. When Cassie discovers this, her mother kills herself by sticking her head into a pot of boiling water (or oil, was never quite clear on this). Unfortunately, this did not stop her. She returned from the grave to continue killing the kids who tormented Cassie, forcing her daughter to kill her again. Once this happens, Cassie realizes there are some people who are so evil, death cannot contain them. These are Slashers, and they need to be stopped.

After encountering a deformed behemoth of a man named Vlad in Chicago, they team up and scour the country, killing Slashers wherever they find them.

The series knows its roots. It began as a series of one-shots, trade paperbacks, and mini-series that featured appearances from Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), Steve Niles (30 Days of Night), and even Chucky from the Child's Play movies and Herbert West from Re-Animator. It did not rely solely on established slasher icons, though. It built its own, every bit as scary as the ones in the movies. We got Bobby, a mentally-challenged man who was accidentally killed in a vet's gas chamber one night, and now can summon dead animals to do his bidding. Father Wrath, a fire and brimstone evangelist from the South who had a penchant for dressing in women's clothing and trying to molest little boys until he was killed, then raised from the dead to destroy the unbelievers, sinners, fornicators, whores, and drunkards by a girl named Laura Loch who discovered a book of spells in her church basement. Jimmy and Lloyd, twisted brothers who want to stop the re-imagining of classic comic book characters to have darker overtones, and honestly, defy explanation (ever seen the X-Files episode "Humbug"? That's the general idea).

Among horror comics, the series is unique; for its longevity, if nothing else. After several of the one shots and limited series, it got a run of 32 continuous issues with Devil's Due Press. Then Image comics picked it up for another 25 issues. Then a few assorted one-offs. Then a six-issue crossover with Army of Darkness (yes, she teamed up with Ash). Then another five issues.

By its very premise, the series could have been done horribly. But Seeley obviously knew what he was doing. By the end of the main series run, you cared about the characters. Cassie and Vlad's relationship was only one small facet of the bigger picture. They gained friends along the way, from among those they saved. We did not just get to see those minor players through the main character's eyes, either. Lisa and Chris, the survivors of the first two storylines ("Euthanized" and "The Land of Lost Toys") meet, fall in love, and have a child together. Cassie befriends and eventually has a relationship with Margaret, aka Georgia Peaches, from the first main series arc. And then there's Pooch, a deformed dog / hell-beast also introduced in that same arc who returns to find the "most hated Cassie Hack" for his demonic overlords before realizing that his new masters (Chris and Lisa) treat him so much better (yes, he talks, and if you ever wondered what your dog might be thinking, Pooch probably comes close). Cassie defines Pooch better than I can: "You look like a dog swallowed a baby, and petting you is like stroking a five foot uncircumcised wiener."

Come on, that's awesome.

It blends humor, gore, sex, and everything else that made horror entertaining in the Slasher era. Yes, the stories sometimes get a little out there. It's not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. But the depth of character, the interplay between those characters, and the richness of Cassie and Vlad's individual backstories are something you don't normally see in horror comics.

There have been rumors about it being turned into a movie, but that's the wrong direction. Put this thing on pay cable so you can do it justice and make it a TV series.

Are you going to learn anything by reading this? I doubt it. But it's a fun diversion for horror fans. I definitely recommend picking it up. You can get all the original stuff in Omnibus trade paperback form from Amazon or your local comic shop. The last two collections are not in an omnibus, but you can get them individually (Army of Darkness vs. Hack / Slash and Hack / Slash: Son of Samhain, Volume 1). At least check out the first omnibus and see if you like it. If you're as demented as me, I'm betting you'll get the rest soon enough.

As a side note, to explain the title of this blog: do a Google Image search for "Cassie Hack". Look for any picture of her holding a baseball bat with barbed wire or spikes on it. Read what's on the bat. Get it? And if you're feeling especially naughty, do a search for "Cassie Hack Suicide Girls". Yes, she's on their site, and yes, she has a photo shoot posted on it. It's comic book art, not an actual living model, but that's some serious crossover going on there!

Monday, September 21, 2015

This Needs to Stop...

I've been sitting on this one for a while, debating on whether or not to even post it, but I actually feel like I need to in order to get it out of my system. Fair warning, this one's not as carefree and light as the others I've put up here. This one is serious and contains some pretty strong language about a pretty severe occurrence in the world today. If you can't handle that, turn back now.

I keep my opinions on current events pretty much to myself. If you want to know my religious or political leanings, read my work. Bits of it creep out. Ultimately I feel such things are irrelevant anyway. But sometimes, something just hits me the right way, and it stews inside me like a pressure cooker until it finally explodes. 

I have two kids, one of which is still in high school. As such, I get emails from the school about things that are going on, simply by virtue of having my email address attached to my kid's record. To be honest, I usually ignore these.

Then on September 6, an email came in announcing the death of a student the day before, a freshman named Sherokee Harriman. It caught my attention, needless to say, but beyond verifying whether or not my child knew her, nothing really clicked other than how sad and tragic it is that someone should pass away so young.

As the next couple of days passed, I learned more about what happened and started feeling royally pissed.

I live in a relatively small town outside of Nashville. We're not Mayberry, but we do tend to have a fast grapevine that reveals all kinds of things. Again, most are irrelevant, even to the people who live here. Sherokee's situation was not one of those.

What I learned was that this fourteen year old girl had not simply died. She had taken her own life. The reason? She was a victim of bullying.

I was confused, as I always am when stories like this come out in the news. With her, as with the others, I saw her pictures and wondered why it happened in the first place. She was white, so racism probably wasn't a factor. She was pretty, and didn't appear to be overweight, so that didn't make sense either. Then I stopped myself, not because I didn't want an answer, but by trying to discern the reason she had been bullied I was no better than the punk ass kids who had done it in the first place. Reasons don't matter. The sad truth is simply that some kids who think they're better than everyone else in the world found a target and went after it. They didn't need a reason. If one wasn't evident, they made one up.

Because there's really one answer to why it happened, once you boil things down. And honestly, I can't even really put the blame on the kids who did it. They're just idiots, but that's not their fault. That can be overcome. The fault lies in the parents who don't give enough of a shit about the rest of the people in the world to teach their kids tolerance. The parents who think it's funny when their hellspawn do something bad, because they did it when they were kids too. 

What kind of fucked up mental midget do you have to be to condone your kids antagonizing another living, feeling human being to the point where taking themselves out of the equation and cutting off any chance of knowing what it means to really live is the preferable alternative? How can you look at yourself in the mirror and sleep at night knowing that you have failed your children and the world by not bothering to teach them the difference between right and wrong?

The parents all come back with the old standby that "kids will be kids". Kiss my ass. That just means that kids will test their boundaries as they grow up and develop a sense of independence. If you did your duty as their parents, their boundaries would not have extended so far as to allow being complicit in what amounts to murder. That's one hell of a boundary there, let me tell you.

As parents, our duty is to set those boundaries. If our children push against them, fine. I can accept the "kids will be kids" excuse. But if you choose to just ignore that breach, or are too disinterested in your child's life to bother noticing that they're doing it in the first place, that makes you directly responsible for every screwed up thing they do from that point onward. Children must be disciplined. That doesn't mean you have to beat their asses for every perceived transgression. It does mean, however, that you MUST take an interest in your child's life and let them know their actions have consequences.

It's not the fault of violence on television or in the movies. It's not the fault of violent video games. The music didn't make them do it, nor did the books they read. The fault lies in you as parents who want to be friends with your kids rather than be their parents. I'm forty years old. My oldest kid is nineteen. Why the hell would I want to be friends with someone that much younger than me? We might share some interests, but how can they possibly understand the things I've experienced in double their lifespan? I love my kids. I have fun with my kids. I enjoy spending time with my kids. But there is zero doubt about the roles we play. I am their father. Period.

I was called names in school. I was bullied, though not as severely as the reports I've heard lately. I was lucky enough to have friends and family who helped me realize that it didn't matter what those assholes said to me. The only person I had to answer to was myself. It didn't matter what they thought of me, so long as I was happy with myself, at least to the degree that anyone at that age is capable of it. When one of my kids began to experience similar things, I was able to pass that lesson on. The problem is that the bullies of my generation grew up. Some of them matured as they aged, and became well adjusted members of society who now understand what they did back then was wrong. Others, it seemed, saw nothing wrong with how they acted. This has allowed their children to raise the bar higher, meaning the bullying has become more severe.

I was a "nerd" and a "geek" and a "dork". But as the computer age dawned, those were the people who inherited the earth. I shudder to think what today's bullied children will inherit. From the looks of it, they're being conditioned to be bitter and resentful and isolated. That does not bode well for the future of the human race.

I grew up in the South, to parents who had lived before the civil rights movement. Racism was not defined as such for me. At the same time, they taught me to value the person and not what I saw on the outside. Because of that, I was able to grow up and not care if you were white, black, yellow, brown, purple, or green. Color was just that. It was the person you were inside the counted. It took work to overcome the native prejudice that still exists in the American South where people might mean no offense but give nothing but. Still, I did it, because I had parents who taught me right from wrong as best as they were able, because they cared.

The parents of these kids who bully people to suicide? They obviously don't. You can argue all you want that you do, look how much I do for my kids. You might as well be farting in the wind for all the good it does you. "Kids will be kids." Here's another old truism for you: "Actions speak louder than words." You can claim to care all you like, buy your kid whatever they want and call it love, but the truth is in how they act and how they treat other people. That's the direct result of your influence as a parent.

Something needs to be done, but the irony is that nothing anyone does externally will accomplish shit. Zero tolerance policies don't work. How can they, when the kids are taking their cues from their disconnected parents? Until parents wake up and realize that it's their own damn fault their kid is a little shit with no respect for anyone, nothing anyone does will help. I'm not being defeatist here, just stating the facts. I wish things were different, but the evidence doesn't support it. I wish I could slap every one of these people upside the head and make them understand that if only they would raise their kids right from the start, if only they would be the parent and stop expecting the schools or the kid's friends, or someone else or worse the fucking television to do it for them, then maybe - just maybe - this shit would stop.

I've said my peace. I would apologize for offending anyone, but if you're doing the right thing with your kids, I think you won't be offended. The only ones who will be are the ones who read this and felt like I was talking directly to them. And I hope I DID offend those people. Maybe it will make them open their eyes and stop thinking the world owes them something. I doubt it, but I can still hope.

To Sherokee and all the countless others who endured what she did, I know you're beyond caring about this now, but some of us care. Some of us want better for people in your shoes. Some of us do our damndest to make sure our kids understand how to treat other people, even if they're different. Especially if they're different. I just wish you could have known that sooner. It might not have made a difference, but then again, maybe it would have. That's what all of us who try have to live with. We failed you by not knowing what to do to fix it sooner, but please know it was not from lack of caring.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Magician's Apprentice, aka The Episode of Returns

If anyone was unsure, I am a Whovian. Need proof? There's a Doctor Who reference in Consequences. There's another couple in Demon at the Window. I didn't force them in, they just came naturally.

Anyway, as a fan of the show, I was waiting with anticipation for the start of Series 9. After seeing it, I had to offer a review.

In case you haven't watched yet, be warned. Spoilers.

We started like most premieres, with an unknown place in an unknown time filled with unknown people. As the opening scene winds down, we find a lone child, trapped by "hand-mines", one of the more brilliant concepts I've seen on the show. Childish and creepy at the same time, as befitting this British staple that was originally designed for kids. The Doctor, as normal, shows up to save the day and asks the kid his name. Once he answered, I knew I was in for a tremendous ride.

The kid's name? Davros. Yes, that one. He's back. Nerdgasm number one.

Back in the here and now, Clara is teaching class when she notices the planes have stopped. Not stopped running, but actually stopped in place in the sky, unmoving. Naturally, this is not normal to anyone except for her. She gets a call from UNIT and is rushed to their base where we see the wonderful Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is still running things. As they try to reach the Doctor, they get a message on a UNIT channel exclusively for his use, and one they think he's probably forgotten about. When they decode it, it's glorious.

You so fine.

You so fine you blow my mind.

Nerdgasm number two.

Yep, it's Missy, formerly the Master, back from death once again. Let's face it, no matter who played him before, Michelle Gonzales has claimed this role for her own, happily stealing every scene she's in and providing the perfect foil for Peter Capaldi. At this point, I'm beside myself.

The basic premise is this: Davros is dying and wants to speak to the Doctor one last time before he goes. He sends a messenger to find the Doctor and collect him, using the lure "Davros rememembers".

In the interim, we get a wonderful Clara / Missy showdown that puts Clara in her place better than either Doctor she's traveled with ever could. As Clara has to come to grips with the fact that the evidence points to the Master / Missy still being the Doctor's best friend in the universe, Missy casually points out a man and woman walking their dog to explain Clara's relationship with the Doctor: "See that couple there? You're the puppy."

The two of them team up (an interesting concept in its own right) and track the Doctor to England in the 1100's. Missy gets them there through the use of a vortex manipulator and tells Clara to be on the lookout for anachronisms. No sooner than the words leave her mouth, an electric guitar rings out over the fighting arena where they materialized. It seems the Doctor, known in this place and time as The Magician, has gotten himself challenged to an ax fight. Only he hears it as "axe" and enters the arena wailing on the guitar while riding a tank. Sounds like anachronisms to me

With this scene alone, any lingering concerns about Capaldi's Doctor are eliminated. The interplay between Missy, Clara, and himself using the guitar as counterpoint are testament to the skill of the actors involved and the love they clearly have for what they're doing.

The plot starts moving here, ending with the Doctor face-to-face with Davros. Any question about what Davros remembers are answered when he shows a recording of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, in Genesis of the Daleks, debating whether or not he should commit genocide on the newly-made Dalek race: "...if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?"

Davros remembers indeed.

Davros shows the Doctor that Missy and Clara have escaped their confinement and gone exploring, revealing where they really are. Skaro, rebuilt and reformed, filled to the brim with Daleks once more.

Missy discovers the Daleks have acquired the TARDIS and tries to bargain with them: her life flying them around in it in exchange for not killing her. Their answer? Maximum Extermination. Clara runs. Exterminated. Then the TARDIS itself, Exterminated. The Doctor has nothing left, even if we as viewers know there is absolutely no way this will be permanent.

Snap to the final bookend. The Doctor and young Davros. Davros asks what the Doctor is doing. The Doctor responds that he's saving his friends the only way he knows how and raises a Dalek weapon to point at the child.

Then the moment that made me swear at my television and want to fly to Wales to strangle Stephen Moffett: To be continued.

You suck, Moffett. And it's a beautiful thing. The last season felt clunky in many areas, but if this start is any indication, we're in for a treat this time around. Capaldi feels comfortable in the role he spent most of last season acclimating to, and even though Jenna Coleman's Clara still feels as controlling and more important than she should be as a companion, she was more tolerable this time. That may have more to do with sharing most of her screen time with Michelle Gonzales's wonderfully insane Missy, but only time will tell for sure. We know this is her last go-around as the Doctor's companion (, so we shall see.

All in all, this episode left me more excited about the new season than last year, and considering that was a regeneration recovery episode featuring Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, it says something. We've been promised the return of Osgood and River Song this year as well, so let's cross our fingers and hope they keep up the good work.

Book Reviews in Bulk - The Splatterpunks

So last time, I promised some non-update related posts. This is the first.

While the day job was driving me nuts, I went back to an old faithful for escapism. I read. I hit up the Kindle store looking to see if anything new was out there, and lo and behold discovered not something new, but something old re-released in eBook form. In a sense, this was better.

I grew up in the eighties and early nineties. During those formative years, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on that was horror related. Some of my favorites were the splatterpunk authors who took horror and stood it on its head. These have been followed by today's "hardcore" horror writers, but those who led the way still hold a special place in my heart. Over the years, the paperbacks I had wore out and became unreadable, though I still have some of them. But now, many of those books are on Kindle. My bank account suffered this discovery, but my heart thrilled at it.

Here's some reviews of a few of those, freshly re-read for the first time in over fifteen years, and a couple read for the first time ever.

The Scream by John Skipp and Craig Spector
This was the one that got me hooked. For me, it was the other side of the Rock n' Roll / Horror connection that Alice Cooper and those who followed him presented. I loved it as a kid, so I decided to see how it held up so many years later.

From Rock 'n' Roll. Hell. Two great tastes that taste great together. Long before Elvis gyrated on the Sullivan Show or the Beatles toiled the smoky red-light bars of Hamburg, music has been sowing the seeds of liberation. Or damnation. With each new generation the edge of rebellion pushed farther. Rhythms quickened. Volume increased. Lyrics coarsened. The rules continued to be broken, until it seemed that there were no rules at all.
And as waves of teens cranked it up and poured it on, parents built walls of accusation to explain their offspring's seeming corruption. Sex and drugs, demon worship and violence are the effects. Music is the cause. Or so the self-styled guardians of morality would have us believe.
Meet The Scream. Just your average everyday mega-cult band. Their music is otherworldly. Their words are disturbing. Their message is unholy. Their fans are legion. And they're not kidding. They're killing. Themselves. Each other. Everyone. Their gospel screams from the lips of babes. Their backbeat has a body count. And their encore is just the warm-up act to madness beyond belief.
It emerged from a war-torn jungle, where insanity was just another word for survival. It arrived in America with an insatiable lust for power and the means to fulfill it. In the amplified roar of arena applause there beats the heart of absolute darkness.

The first thing that hit me was the pop culture references, usually through brand names that no longer exist but were top of the line in the mid-eighties when this came out. This time around, I understood those. The next was the writing itself, something I can appreciate so much better now that I'm older and have tried my hand at it. The descriptive turn of phrase, the use of metaphors combining things in a way I would have never imagined, the word choice. All of it was spot on, and one of the hallmarks I remembered from Skipp and Spector. When it came to splatterpunk horror, they could make it real in ways many writers never could. And that's a good thing.

Then there were the characters. Sometimes they seemed caricature, but in those instances you almost get the feeling they were intended to be. From Jacob Hammer, leader of the eponymous Jacob Hammer Band to Rod Royale, lead guitarist for the Scream and long-distance prodigy of the Marquis de Sade to Pastor Daniel Furniss, the obvious televangelist amalgamation, they all leapt off the page and could have been sitting in the room next to you. With some exceptions, you feel sympathy for the villains and see the faults in the heroes.

The story itself sometimes wanders, but even those side trips are fun and provide some of the motivations for why the characters made the choices they did and ended up where they are at each point of the story. The ending is a bit predictable, but considering the subject matter there really was no other obvious direction to take it.

All in all, it was the same joyful read I remembered it being, only with a deeper understanding of the subtext to make it that much richer in my mind.

The Kill Riff and Wild Hairs by David J. Schow
David J. Schow should be a familiar name to anyone who read Fangoria magazine in the nineties. He wrote a column for them called Raving and Drooling where he vented about whatever was on his mind, from censorship and the MPAA to long-forgotten classic horror movies, to whatever came across his black little heart.

Wild Hairs collects these, along with several other columns and articles he wrote over the years for other publications, and offer a prime example of where he shines as a writer. In addition to these magazine articles, Schow is also a scriptwriter, having worked on some of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies as well as The Crow starring Brandon Lee. It is of this latter where the heart truly comes into his column for Fango, and you can almost feel him using it as a way to deal with his grief over Brandon's untimely death on the set of that movie.

Basically, Wild Hairs is a step backward in time to those days where the MPAA seemed to have a vendetta against slasher movies and when those who worked behind the scenes in horror became as big as rock stars just by doing what they loved. If you are a true horror fan, check it out. Not every article was a winner, but there are enough to make the purchase worthwhile.

Then comes The Kill Riff, Schow's first full-length novel. Beware, spoilers ahead for this one.

Lucas Ellington is an LA ad executive who seems to have it all before it falls apart. His ex-wife commits suicide, leaving a note that blames him. Then his daughter Kristen is killed at a concert for the heavy metal group Whip Hand. After a self-imposed stay in a mental hospital where Lucas is "cured", he emerges a new man. One who intends to take out the members of the now-disbanded Whip Hand to avenge his daughter.

The story itself had potential, and for the first two acts, it lived up to it. Then we hit act three and it all came tumbling down.

The concept of revenge killing is not a new thing. It's been around for years. The story of a man blaming a rock band for his daughter's death is well within the realm of possibility, and could have made for a nice dual plotline. As he kills the band members, he begins to heal until he no longer needs to go through with it. As a reader, you sympathize with Lucas. As a parent, even more so. The scenes with the lead singer of Whip Hand, whom Lucas is saving for last, even paint him as the spoiled rock star who is so far above it all that the little people mean nothing to him anymore.

Lucas even gains sympathy when he saves a girl who knocks on the door of his secluded cabin in the mountains after her boyfriend beat the hell out of her and left her for dead. One could argue how believable her choice to stay at the cabin with him, knowing next to nothing about him is, but in the end it's irrelevant. She practically screams "plot device" from the moment she appears on Lucas's doorstep, but Schow makes you care enough about her that you can forgive that.

Then he throws that sympathy out the window. Lucas is not right in the head, sympathetic character or not. Well-adjusted individuals do not plan and carry out assassinations of rock stars as methodically as Lucas does with no remorse. That's all fine, though. We understand this going in since we first meet him talking to his doctor before being released from the mental hospital. It's when we learn the depths of his psychosis, that he is not merely troubled but flat-out psychopathic that things go haywire.

Two things in one scene seal the deal. The girl he helped, who is perhaps the most innocent character in the story as things turn out, has become what appears to be a strange hybrid replacement for Lucas's ex-wife and daughter. She reminds him of Kristen, but there is a sexual attraction there. The turning point comes as Lucas stares into his fireplace, the girl naked behind him after the two of them have made love. That Lucas bashes her head in with a stove of wood is not the worst part, though it is the first (but woefully not the last) innocent he kills. It's a single thought that runs through his mind while they're in the throes of passion. The thought that his daughter was not this good in bed.

Um, what?

This is near the start of act three, mind you. I tried to keep having sympathy for him, I really did. But after discovering that he was an incestuous psychopath who did not give two shits who he killed, I couldn't do it. His rationalizations that she had been the one to instigate things did nothing to allay that. The protagonist was gone, in his place another antagonist.

The role could have shifted. His doctor had been slowly figuring out what Lucas was up to the entire time, so I could have dealt with a shift to her for the protagonist role. To be fair, it seemed like that was exactly what was intended, but it didn't work. At least not for me.

The doctor spent too much time bemoaning the fact that if Lucas had played her, it wrecked her chances of having a relationship with him and was apt to ruin her career. Seriously? The guy's carrying out a planned mass murder and that's your focus. Exit sympathy for her, too.

So the book ends with no protagonist, and no real sense of closure other than the covers. It becomes only a minor quibble that occasionally the character dialogue sounds more like things Schow himself might say in one of his articles and not at all like normal people would talk around their friends and family. That I can forgive. The destruction of any character worth giving a damn about, not so much.

I like Schow's writing, don't misunderstand me. His script work is good and his magazine articles are top-notch. I seem to recall reading a short story or two of his, and they were okay as well. But for a novel, he dropped the ball and that disappoints me. I'll give him another chance. It looks like he's written other novels since The Kill Riff, and I can only hope they redeem him and show what I know he could do if he put his mind to it.

And that's it for now. I'll do more of these reviews, one at a time in the future, as I finish books that make me want to praise or condemn them. Hope you enjoyed this installment!