Author Seeking Agent

So I have been publishing in the small press since 2009. It has been a wild ride, and I am very happy with the work I've produced in that time. I've worked with some topnotch people, wonderful publishers and editors and artists who've pushed me to be better at my craft. I will continue to work with these people, but I also want to explore other avenues with my fiction.

A novel I completed last year, The Advantaged, seemed like a great work with which to attempt this. Most of my work thus far has fallen into the categories of horror or suspense, or at the very least mystery. I love these genres and will never turn away from them, but there are stories outside those genres I want to explore. I've done so in my short fiction quite a bit, which anyone who has read any of my collections can attest to.

But The Advantaged is the first novel-length work I've done that falls into a more "mainstream" (for lack of a better word), dramatic category. It is a tale of friendship but also isolation and insecurity, about how we can let our own insecurity get us into these complicated emotional knots that it seems impossible to unravel. It was a thrilling experience writing the novel, and I ended up with a finished work of which I am incredibly proud.

Since none of the publishers I've worked with over the past decade publish this sort of thing, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to use this piece to try to get an agent. To see if I can take my writing to a different level, explore other avenues as I said before.

I'm in the early stages. Researching different agencies, selecting agents that seem to mesh with this kind of story, and sending out pitches. It is kind of nerve wracking. I am very confident in my storytelling ability, but I'm not confident in my ability to sell myself. But I have such passion for this story, I want to give it every shot to thrive.

I've already gotten a few rejections. Very nice, but a few have contained lines like, "I'm not enthusiastic about this idea" or "This story doesn't excite me." And I'm not mad. That's perfectly legitimate. Not every story will appeal to everyone. But this does not make me any less enthusiastic or excited by the story.

I merely have to keep at it in the hopes that I'll land on the one agent who will share my enthusiasm and excitement.

I'll keep you posted.

Interview with Author Joseph Mulak

Joseph Mulak is a talented storyteller and a hell of a cool guy. I was thrilled when he stopped by the blog to chat with me.



MAG: Were you a reader from an early age?

JM: Definitely! If my mother is to be believed (but she tends to exaggerate at times) I taught myself to read. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but I do remember reading a lot as a kid. I started out with these Sesame Street books we had in the basement of the house I grew up in. I would sit down there for hours sometimes reading through them. I must have read those books at least ten times each. A few years later, my uncle had given my brother a bunch of Hardy Boys books. My brother never read them, so I did. I read of each of them two or three times. I was eight or nine at the time. I also remember reading a lot of Archie comics back then as well. There was a used bookstore my mother would take me to and I would buy a bunch of them at a time. I had a stack about three feet tall in my room.

MAG: Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? If so, what can you tell us about it?

JM: I don’t remember the specifics, but I do remember my first attempt at writing was a copy of the Hardy Boys. I was probably ten at the time. I tried to write my own series called The Farley Boys. The first, and only, attempt at this was about the boys and their parents moving into a new house and someone kept breaking in. The police couldn’t figure out who was doing it or how the culprit was even getting into the house, so the boys took it upon themselves to investigate. They discover a trapdoor in the house and, as it turns out, the culprit had been living under the house the whole time. Being ten years old, the whole story was about a page long with no paragraph breaks or dialogue. It’s kind of embarrassing to think about now.

MAG: Who were some of the storytellers who influenced you?

JM: There are so many. I think every book I read influences me in some ways, even if it’s a bad book. You can learn a lot about how not to write a book from the novels that you don’t like.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen King. Even though I haven’t read any of his books since the 90s, he was the first writer I read that made me consider becoming an author. What I consider to be my first real attempt at writing a novel was a rip-off of The Dead Zone, which was the first of King’s books I read. It was called My Prison and, while the plot was my own, the concept was very similar to the Dead Zone.

I was also very influenced by a lot of the books that were part of our high-school curriculum at the time, though not until later. I hated the books in high-school, though I realized later it wasn’t the books I hated. It was having to dissect them for essays and oral presentations. I re-read books like Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. I hated the books then, but after re-reading them when I was older, they became and remain two of my favourite books.

I was also heavily influenced by Dickens. I still love his work and I just bought a set of his books. It has that old, antique look to them and they’re on the top shelf of my bookshelf now.

Other authors who influenced me around this time were F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Herman Melville, Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Edward Albee, Ramsey Campbell, Douglas Clegg, Frank DeFellita, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz.

Lately, the writers who have been influencing me are Nick Hornby, Matthew Norman, Jonathan Evison, Mike Gayle, Douglas Coupland, Terry Fallis, Richard Russo, Jonathan Franzen, Irvine Welsh, John Irving, Tom Perrotta, Jonathan Tropper, Matt Cohen, David Adams Richards, and Mark Haddon.

I’m a bit all over the place with my reading.

MAG: What was your first published work?

JM: My first published work was a short story called “As in Life, So in Death,” published in SNM Horror Mag in 2009. It actually came from a joke on Twitter. I found out the ezine was looking for zombie stories. They put out monthly theme issues. So I posted on Twitter that I was looking for an original premise for a zombie story. Another author, Bryan Smith, responded with the idea of a guy going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and eating so much he dies, but when he comes back as a zombie, he’s too full to eat anyone. I dismissed the idea as ridiculous, which I’m pretty sure was Bryan’s intention, but the idea stayed with me and I figured I could turn it into a comedy. I didn’t quite use Bryan’s premise. The story was about a guy whose dad died and came back as a zombie and went back to his regular routine. He would go to work then come home and sit in front of the TV. I was proud of the story at the time, but I read it again a couple of years ago and was more embarrassed than anything. I love the concept but I didn’t execute it very well back then.

MAG: What can you tell us about the character of Ivan in Flushed? Readers really seem to have responded positively to him. How did he develop?



JM: Ivan was born from two things. My love of Dostoevsky and my hatred of gambling. Astute readers will recognize the main catalyst of the events in Flushed are very similar to the plot of Dostoevsky’s The Gambler. I had read it around that time and was definitely influenced by it. But the story quickly deviates from Dostoevsky’s original premise and becomes something else entirely. So, while the book was influenced by The Gambler, I wouldn’t say it’s a rip-off.

I don’t know where Ivan himself came from. When I started the book, the opening scene was Ivan talking about all the tricks casinos use to keep people inside, spending money. I removed those opening paragraphs for two reasons: 1. I wanted to get right to the action and 2. They came off as me going on a rant about why casinos are evil, which isn’t what I wanted. Yes, the book was originally inspired by my own personal dislike of gambling, but I didn’t want the book to come off as preachy. I don’t care if other people gamble. It’s just not for me.

So, while I was writing the opening scene, I tried to imagine who the narrator would be. It was obviously someone who spent a lot of time in the city’s local casino and I got the idea of someone who made their living playing poker with tourists at the poker tables. Then I had to wonder what kind of person would do that and the answer I came up with is it had to be someone who has never really had to think about other people. Ivan is lazy, irresponsible, and selfish. He only cares about himself. Which isn’t unlike myself when I was in my mid-twenties. So then I wondered what would happen if this person suddenly had to take someone else into consideration and had all these responsibilities thrust on him all at once, and that’s how the concept came to be.

MAG: Ashes to Ashes is your unique take on the zombie subgenre. What drew you to this story, and did you consider it a challenge to put your own stamp on the zombie?



JM: I never intended to write a zombie novel. The opening scene of the book involves one of the main characters, Todd, on his way to kill himself by jumping off an overpass. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of twenty-six and I was going through a hard time mentally and emotionally when I started the book. That opening scene was born out of a particularly tough bout of depression. I just sat down to write and that’s what came out.

One thing I’ve noticed is when I’m depressed, I tend to write more comedic stories. Making myself laugh helps to pull me out of it. So I tried to do that with this story. As Todd is about to jump, there’s another guy who already jumped and is still alive and they start a conversation.

So of course, I’ve got this guy who’s jumped off an overpass and is in rough shape and there’s no way he survived this, so I needed a reason why he was still alive. The obvious answer was zombies. But I didn’t want to write just another zombie story. So I created the character of Mitch, Todd’s older brother. Todd is a failed musician, divorced, and is estranged from his kids. Mitch is a successful doctor, happily married, and his wife are expecting their first child. They hate each other but end up having to fight through the zombie apocalypse to get themselves and their loved ones to safety.

The one thing I wanted to make sure of, was that I had an original idea for how the dead are being reanimated. I wanted some kind of scientific explanation for that, which is how I came up with the drug “ash.” I won’t go into too many details about it, since I don’t want to spoil it, but the drug is the main catalyst for the zombie uprising in the book and I managed to create a scientific reason behind it all. Having said that, science isn't exactly my forte and people who are actual scientists may read and think I have no idea what I’m talking about. And they’d be right. But I was pretty proud of the premise when I thought of it. Also, the way I have it set up, shooting the zombies in the head actually make things worse for the protagonists, so they have to be a bit more creative.

All that to say, I don’t see Ashes to Ashes as a zombie book. It’s a story of two brothers trying to work out their differences with zombies as the backdrop. It’s the most autobiographical story I’ve written since the relationship between the two brothers is inspired by my relationship with my own brother. While Todd and Mitch and aren’t necessarily based on my brother and me, there are a lot of similarities.

MAG: What are you working on now, and where do you see your writing going in the future?

JM: I just started a new book. The tentative title is Other People’s Music. It’s about a guy named Andy who makes a living playing in various cover bands to make a living, but his dream is to start writing and recording his own music. Andy comes from a long line of professional musicians and his father was a famous blues guitarist who just vanished one day and no one knows what happened to him. When Andy’s teenaged daughter comes to stay with him for a while, she convinces him to seek out his father to find out where he went and why he quit playing music.

As for where my writing is going: Even though 99% of my published work is in the horror genre, I find my current work is moving away from that. Not that I have anything against the genre. It’s just that most of the ideas I’m passionate about right now fall into other categories. After the current book, I have three more ideas that all fall into comedy/drama more than anything else. I’m not saying I’ll never return to writing horror, but I won’t be for the foreseeable future at least.

A big thank you to Joseph for stopping by. You can check out his stuff here: https://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Mulak/e/B0085Q0OT8?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1625572208&sr=1-1

Pride Month - The Year of Reading Deliberately

As Pride Month draws to a close, I have been heartened to see so many people celebrating LGBT+ creators, especially in the horror field. This is definitely not something I would have seen in my youth, and there is still pushback against it to this day. I am hopeful this movement will continue to grow, and I would love to see LGBT creators highlighted and spotlighted beyond this one month a year.

As most who follow me know, this year I have chosen to read deliberately in an attempt to enrich my reading enjoyment by focusing 2021 on writers who are women, people of color, and LGBT+. As a gay man myself, I have had to admit that I have not read as many LGBT+ authors as I should have. That is part of what I am rectifying this year.

I started out the year with a collection by Craig Gidney called Sea, Swallow Me, and it was beautiful and lyrical and moving. I also read the novella Scry For Help by Aaron Eischeid and it was a powerful meditation on grief wrapped in a ghost story. Torn by Lee Thomas was old-school werewolf fun but with a subplot that any LGBT person can relate to. J. Daniel Stone's Lovebites & Razorlines provided some dark and twisted tales that put me in mind of early Barker. Speaking of Barker, this year I finally read Galilee 22 years after originally purchasing the hardcover, and it was immersive and sensual. The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. really impressed me with its deep-dive into LGBT history that most are not aware of. I also read a collection by my college Creative Writing professor, Warren Rochelle. The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories takes fairytales and fantasy tropes and reinterprets them through an LGBT lens. Earlier this year I released an LGBT haunted apartment novel, so when I found out Rick R. Reed's Wounded Air was also an LGBT haunted apartment novel, I had to read it. A very different approach than mine, but a wonderful rumination on addiction and dependence. Triads by Poppy Z. Brite and Christa Faust is a collection of three connected novellas that enthralled me. J.C. Robinson's The Diner offered up a menu of old-school horror goodness. I am currently reading the graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse that gives a glimpse into the past of the Civil Rights movement, as well as The Fallen Boys by Aaron Dries. Both are excellent so far.

This is only a fraction of what I've read so far this year, and I have to say I have discovered so many strong and astounding voices that had slipped under my radar before. I am so glad I made the decision to read deliberately this year.

And I am so happy to see that LGBT+ creators are getting more attention. I know people say it doesn't matter if a writer is gay or straight as long as the story is good, but that's a in-a-perfect-world situation. We don't live in that world, not yet though we do get closer every day. And some writers simply have a harder time getting exposure and visibility and I think it's worth the effort (minimal effort at that) to seek out these voices.

Happy Pride and let's keep the movement going year round!

The Awakening of BEFORE HE WAKES

It is always exciting when I have a new book out. No matter how many titles I release, it never gets old or less thrilling. May 14th marks the release of my newest novel from Crystal Lake Publishing, Before He Wakes.



This one is a straight-up suspense thriller with a fast pace and I hope a ton of tension to keep readers on the edge of their seat. The writing of it was a similar experience, I think I got the whole thing down in about two months, the premise keeping me eager to get back to the computer and find out what happened next.

Yet the genesis of this one came about unexpectedly and from the most random of thoughts. Very indirectly, I owe a debt of gratitute to the Master of Horror, Stephen King.

Let me explain.

One day I was in the kitchen, about to do the dishes I believe, when I found myself thinking of the film version of Misery. For no particular reason. I had not seen that film recently, my husband and I had not been discussing the film. It simply popped into my head, and one scene specifically. Paul Sheldon has just discovered that Annie Wilkes has told no one he is in her house, no help is coming, and he's trapped there with the deranged nurse. Annie is about to leave the house and she says to Paul, "You better hope nothing happens to me, because if I die, you die."

I've seen that movie at least a dozen times, heard that line a dozen times, but this time it suddenly triggered a chain of thoughts. What would happen to someone being held captive if their captor met with an unfortuante fate? They would still be trapped, with no one knowing where they were, and they might have limited food or water.

BOOM! Instant idea, and right there at the sink I started thinking of someone, maybe two someone's, trapped in a basement-turned-prison. Maybe the person who put them there has been involved in a tragic accident, and our protagonists need to find a way out of that basement before they die from starvation or dehydration. I began to imagine a series of obstacles they'd need to overcome in order to reach that goal. In that initial brainstorming session, I even came up with the title. Before He Wakes.

It was when I came up with the ending that I knew I had something I needed to write. I started it shortly after, and as I said, I got the entire first draft done in two months. It was a singular, exciting experience, and now I am so thrilled to be sharing it with the world. From just that one moment in the kitchen, I now have a book I'm so proud of.

Before He Wakes can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09432ZK8Z/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

2B: What Could Have Been

When my new book, 2B, came out in February, I posted a blog entry about how long I had carried the idea around in my head before finally writing it.

I also mentioned that about ten years ago I made an aborted attempt to start the novel. I didn't get far, only a prologue and a part of chapter one. It didn't feel right to me, didn't seem to be working, so I abandoned it. And waited another ten years to try again, using nothing of the original attempt, not even character names. This time I was ready, the story flowed smoothly, and I created a novel I'm very proud of.

Since the book has been out for a little while, I thought it might be fun to post that early attempt so that readers of the novel could compare and contrast and see what almost could have been. Below is that early attempt, the prologue and part of chapter one.

2B

PROLOGUE
I awoke in hell.

At least, I assumed it was hell. Where else would have walls painted such a queasy shade of puke-green? Where else would have lights so harsh they pierced the eyes like tiny luminescent blades? Where else would have beeping alien machinery attached to my body with tubes and needles?

“Mr. Dowry?” a demon said in a voice like rocks scraping the bottom of a polluted river.

I squinted against the assaulting light, trying to focus on the blurred figure that had appeared above me, no doubt a soul-sucking harpy come to inflict some unspeakable torment on me.

“Mr. Dowry, can you hear me?”

I tried to sit up, but fiery pain flared across my chest. I opened my mouth to cry out, to vocalize the exquisite anguish of hell, but all that escaped my lips was a hoarse rattling croak, a wounded sound, a dying sound.

“No, no, don’t try to move or talk,” said the demon in a voice far too compassionate for a denizen of Hades. “Not yet, anyway.”

I trained my eyes and concentration on the demon, and the fuzzy edges began to come into crisper focus. The demon was female, with a plump pleasant face and dark hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. Her thin lips were rouged and curled upward.

“Nice to have you back with us,” she said. “I was beginning to worry that you were going to sleep forever.”

I closed my eyes, and my mind filled with odd, disturbing, nonsequiter images. Running water. Bubbles. A tattered paperback. A familiar face seething with rage. “What…” I whispered in a voice as dry and lifeless as a shed snakeskin.

“Do you know where you are?” said the demon who was not a demon. Perhaps an angel, come to rescue me from an eternity of agony.

“In…hell…”

The angel laughed, a delicate twittering giggle. “Well, no, but I can understand why you’d make that assumption.”

Having used up all my energy reserves on the three words I’d managed to get out since awakening, I merely furrowed my brow at the angel, trying to convey through my expression and telepathy my profound confusion and disorientation.

“You’re in a hospital,” said the angel. “St. Christopher’s. I’m Nurse Horace.”

My eyes flittered about the room. The puke-green walls, the harsh light, the alien machinery. Not hell, but a hospital. Semantics, as far as I was concerned. Panic welled within me, setting off tiny but powerful charges of pain in my lungs. My mouth tugged down in a grimace, and I felt tears slipping down the sides of my face to pool on my pillow.

“Shhh, be still,” Nurse Horace said, a cool hand stroking my sweat-slicked forehead. “Doctor Randolph will be here soon. You’re going to be fine, just fine.”

I was retreating. Retreating from this room that had so easily been mistaken for a chamber of hell. Retreating from the unwanted knowledge that played at the corner of my mind, taunting me with nonsensical images that threatened to make too much sense. Retreating from this demon/angel/nurse whose voice was like honey. I closed my eyes again and retreated, back down the dark hole from which I had so recently emerged. Not all the way down, not as far as I’d been. I was still aware of the world above me, the commotion in that world as more people entered the room, but I ducked my head and stayed down in the dark, not yet ready to face the light.

Not yet.
* * *
Sometime later I began crawling out of the hole, up toward a familiar voice calling my name.

“Sean? Sean, can you hear me?”

I opened my eyes, and this time I knew exactly where I was. A hospital. I turned my head slightly, that small movement sending a flow of lava across my chest. Nurse Horace was by my bed, taking an empty pouch from a tall metal stand and replacing it with one full of clear liquid. She smiled down at me.

“Sean? Oh God, Sean, it’s good to see you with your eyes open again.”

My gaze shifted and located the owner of that familiar voice. A lovely young woman with wheat-colored hair and large green eyes, sitting next to the bed in an uncomfortable-looking chair with vinyl upholstery the same putrid color as the walls. Her full lips were pressed together in worry and fear, an expression to which they were unaccustomed.

“Melody?” I said, my voice still a croak but stronger than before.

Tears sprang from her eyes like lemmings from a cliff, and a stuttering laugh tripped out of her mouth. “Yes, it’s me,” she said, taking my right hand gently in her own and caressing my knuckles. “When Dr. Randolph called and told me you had regained consciousness, I was afraid to believe it. Then I get here and find you all coma-like again, I thought God was playing some cruel trick on me.”

“I tried to tell her,” Nurse Horace said. “That you weren’t comatose again, just resting, but the girl just wasn’t hearing me.”

“I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” Melody said, looking at me like a precious family heirloom thought lost then found unexpectedly in a box in the attic. “But you’re back, you’re really back.”

“What…happened…?”

“You mean you don’t remember?”

I tried to concentrate, attempting to rewind my memory beyond awakening in hell. The last clear memory I had was of running a bath after work. After that, there was only the kaleidoscopic mix of images, a puzzle with all the pieces spread out on the table, none of the pieces yet put together.

“Don’t worry about it,” Melody said, her mouth twisting back into that tight mask of worry. “It’s not important right now; all that is important is that you’re okay.”

“Ah, I see you’re up,” said an older man as he stepped into the room. His hair was a stunning shade of silver, his eyes kind and full of good humor behind wire-framed glasses. He was tall, six five at least, and wore a white coat and a stethoscope around his neck. I knew who he must be even before he leaned over the bed and said, “I’m Dr. Randolph.”

I nodded at the man. He looked like the father in some fifties situation comedy, which was simultaneously comforting and a bit creepy.

“Now then,” Dr. Randolph said with a grin, “I’m happy to say you’re doing quite well, given the circumstances. You won’t be doing any high jumps anytime soon, but you’re doing remarkably well for a young man who drowned less than forty-eight hours ago.”

“Drowned?” I repeated. “I drowned?”

A couple of puzzle pieces found each other and locked together. A face, a face I knew, blurred and rippling, a sensation of suffocation.

“Don’t strain yourself trying to remember,” Dr. Randolph said. “A trauma like this, you should be in no hurry to regain those memories.”

The puzzle was teasingly close to being solved, but I decided to let it go for now. And it was a relief. That face in my memory, twisted with rage, was a nightmare right out of some Wes Craven picture. Best to let the demons stay buried for the moment.

“How long was I unconscious?” I asked, my voice beginning to sound like its normal self again.

Melody and Nurse Horace both turned to Dr. Randolph, who reconfigured his face into a look of sympathy. “Thirty-seven hours.”

I pressed my head into the pillow, trying to wrap my brain around this. I had drowned and lay in a comatose state for a day and a half. This was no nightmare, no overly dramatic episode of ER, this was real.

“But you’re gonna be fine,” Melody was quick to chime in. “The worst is behind you.”

“Absolutely,” Dr. Randolph said, his TV-father smile resurrected. “It was touch-and-go for a while there, but you’re through the woods now. You’re going to be good as new.”

Good as new, I thought. Was that possible? After all this, would I ever be the same again?

CHAPTER ONE
This is what I remembered later, after the puzzle was completed:

It was Saturday night, and I was working the closing shift at Book ‘Em Dano, the bookstore/coffeehouse where I’d been employed for the past two years. The store closed at ten on Saturdays, but employees had to stay an additional hour for cleanup and shelving. I didn’t get to my apartment until well after eleven.

I lived only a few blocks from the store. So close, in fact, that I could walk to work on a nice day. Not that I ever did, but I could. My apartment was one of four studios in a light gray building that stood tall and rectangular like a cracker box. Two more identical buildings stood on the same lot. My apartment, 2B, was the bottom right apartment of the second building, the brass number and letter hanging crookedly from the door.

The apartment itself was a perfect square, a single room except for a cramped bathroom no larger than a closet that opened off to the left just inside the door. A kitchenette, separated from the rest of the apartment by a long bar, took up half of the right side of the space. In the far right corner was an actual working fireplace with a glass screen. A Murphy bed opened up out of the wall in the far left corner, across from the fireplace. At the very back of the apartment was a rusty metal heating/air-conditioning until like those in motel rooms. It was a tiny living space, but the rent was only three hundred and fifty a month, and that included all utilities but phone.

Stepping inside the apartment, I kicked off my shoes and tossed my keys onto the bar. The light was blinking on my answering machine so I hit the button to retrieve my messages. One from my Mom, asking why I hadn’t called all week. One from the Student Loan Corporation, reminding me that I was behind on the previous month’s payment. One from Melody, telling me to call her tomorrow.

And one from Jeff.

Jeff was my ex-boyfriend, the prefix very fresh. We had broken up only two weeks prior, but Jeff didn’t seem to fully grasp the concept. He called me regularly, begging me to take him back. He had dropped by the store a few times, until Yvonne, the manager, had threatened to call the police if he didn’t leave the property. Wednesday night he’d shown up at the apartment, obviously drunk, and serenaded me with a raucous version of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” One of my neighbors had called the police over that little display, and the cops had hauled him off for disturbing the peace. I’d had the presence of mind to have the police officers procure the key to my apartment that Jeff had never returned. The message on my machine was the first I’d heard from him since that night.

“Sean, man, why are you doing this to me? Huh? Are you punishing me for something? I need you, baby, don’t you understand that? We can work this out, if you’ll just give me a chance. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. You don’t want to throw away everything we’ve built this past year, I know you don’t. Or do you? Are you that selfish and heartless? Is that it? You were just toying with me this past year, making me your own personal little love slave or something, and now you’re done with me and you can just toss me out like yesterday’s garbage. It’s that easy for you, isn’t it? I mean that little to you, huh? ‘Oh, well, that was fun but now I’m through, hit the road.’ You spineless little fuck. You can’t treat people this way. You can’t be allowed to get away with it. You hear me? You need a reality check, someone to knock you off your goddam golden pedestal. You’re not such hot shit, and someday very soon you’re going to see that. I’m going to make you see that. I’ll be seeing you.”

I went to erase the message, but my finger paused above the button. Yvonne and Melody had been trying to convince me to take out a restraining order on Jeff, and I was beginning to think they were right. He was becoming more and more unstable, and it was starting to really frighten me. I decided to save the message, just in case I needed it to get a protective order.

My relationship with Jeff was one of those things that was a disaster right from the start, and everyone could see it but me. I knew he had a volatile temper and had gotten into more than a few fistfights, but through my rose-colored glasses I just viewed that as part of his passionate nature. He could be absurdly jealous, but I merely thought that was a sign of how much he truly loved me. Two of his ex-boyfriends claimed that he had beaten them, but I considered this to be lies spread by a couple of bitter fags. Melody had once broached the subject of Jeff’s temper with me, but I had reacted with anger, accusing her of wanting to sabotage my happiness. Love was not only blind when it came to my relationship with Jeff, it was also mentally challenged.

My wakeup call came in the form of a size 11 work boot. It started out as a silly argument, buried resentments clawing their way to the surface. We had rented a movie and were going to order a pizza and stay at my apartment for the night. I had asked Jeff if he would pay for the pizza because my funds were starting to get a little depleted. He balked, saying his job in a textile mill didn’t exactly leave him rolling in the dough.

“Well, look,” I’d said, trying to keep my voice calm, “I paid for the movies, and I almost always pay when we eat out, so could you just pay for the pizza this once?”

“You don’t always pay,” Jeff said, his voice gaining volume. “You make it sound like I’m just some big mooch. I got expenses of my own.”

“You live with your mother and drive her car.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jeff had roared.

“It means what it means,” I’d said, exhausted already. I hated to argue. “I just wish you could pick up the tab now and then.”

“How about I pick this up?” Jeff had said, taking one of his heavy work boots and tossing it at me. He threw it with force and it struck me in the side of the face. “How do you like that? That work for you?”

I stood there, dazed, staring down at the boot. And that was it, like a light went on, or a switch was thrown, or a dam broke, or whatever clichéd metaphor would be most appropriate. I had looked up at Jeff, his face scrunched up in anger, and I could see that he didn’t even seem to realize that he’d done anything wrong. He’d just hit me in the face with a steel-toed boot, and he still acted as if he thought he were the injured party.

“Get out,” I’d said, soft but firm. “Get out right now.”

Screaming had followed, but Jeff had left. He seemed to think that it was just for the night, and he had been honestly surprised when I told him we were through. Then had started the calls, the visits, the overall harassment. I considered myself an intelligent man, I wasn’t sure how I had ever gotten involved with someone so violent in the first place, but I just wanted to put it behind me.

Which would have been easier to do if Jeff had not continued to call and pop up.

I’d been planning to make a late snack and watch Saturday Night Live, but after the message I just didn’t feel up to it. Instead, I figured I’d take a bubble bath then hit the sack. I’d call Melody in the morning and see if she’d go with me to get the restraining order.

I went to one of my waist-high bookcases to pick out a book to read in the tub. I passed over books like Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, A Brave New World—books I’d never read, and probably never would, but I felt made me seem smarter just by being on my shelves—and selected They Thirst, Robert McCammon’s tale of vampires taking over Los Angeles.

And there you have it, the 2B that could have been. There is some stuff here I kind of like, but I do think I wasn't yet ready to tackle this story and am glad I waited.

If you haven't yet read 2B, you can find the novel here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08RWBT9CK/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i0

Interview with Lex H Jones

Lex H Jones is a British writer who is making quite a name for himself in the field.



I've had the pleasure of getting to know him on social media, and even did a reading of the title story from his new collection Whistling Past the Graveyard to help him promote it. I asked if he'd let me interview him for my little blog, and I was thrilled that he said yes.


MAG: What was the first story you remember falling in love with as a reader?

LHJ: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I had an old illustrated children's edition of it that I would read over and over, and of course I then discovered the various film adaptations of it too. I remember going to see the Muppets version at the cinema, in fact. Not long afterwards I was bought a copy of the full unabridged book, and it remains my favourite story to this day.


MAG: What is the first story you remember writing yourself?

LHJ: I'm sure we were tasked with writing stories from the very beginning of school, but there's one that I remember very clearly. When I was around 7 or 8 years old, I remember we had a supply teacher (I think you call them substitute teachers in America), and he set us a writing task. The first thing we did was to read a story for children that were younger than us, and then we were told to write a story using the same characters, for the same reading age. When I look back on this now it seems like quite an elaborate creative writing task to give such young children, but I remember being very enthusiastic about it. If you told me "write any story you want for any age group" I'd have stared blankly at the empty page in horror, but having those boundaries imposed on it seemed to spark something in me.

The characters in the story were basically anthropomorphised vegetables, so it made sense to me to tell a story about them that was set outside in a garden area. I wrote one where they were playing hide and seek, and one hid in some nettles because he's an idiot. The moral of the story was that even in playtime you need to be a bit careful. The teacher took me to one side after reading it, and suggested to me, in a very British posh-person matter-of-fact way, that I ought to consider writing as a career choice when I got older. I'm not going to follow it up with "and so that's exactly what I did"..... because I didn't.....but that moment always stuck with me.


MAG: At what point did you start to think of yourself as a writer, realizing that it was something you really wanted to do as more than a hobby?

LHJ: I think probably when I was in my mid twenties. I'd been writing just for the hell of it up until then, but for some reason I decided to start letting people read my work. It was rough and, if I were to go back and read it now, probably quite embarrassing. But the people who read it saw something through it and asked me to keep going. A few years later I decided to start seeking publication for my work, and eventually I got lucky and landed a contract.


MAG: Who were some of your earliest influences?

LHJ: That's a tricky one because I can't honestly say there was a particular one. I liked stories, whatever format they came in. Books, comic books, films, cartoons, videogames, the stories I'd make up to act out with my action figures. I just loved stories, and wanted to create my own. The action figures were my first vehicle for doing that, and they would eventually be replaced with words. Which aren't quite as fun to play with, but at least you get books out of them. So there's a variety of influence in there from all those mediums. With regard specifically to authors, however, the first ghost story I was ever told was "Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You" by M.R James, which was told to me by my grandad. I loved that story and would ask to hear it again and again, along with the various other tales he would narrate. A few years later (when I was still far too young), I found my Dad's battered old copy of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes, and that would be my first self-read entry into real horror books.


MAG: What was your first published story?

LHJ: The first work I got published was "Nick and Abe", a literary fiction fantasy novel about God and the Devil spending a year on earth as mortal men. It was a strange one for me because it wasn't the least bit dark or horror-infused, but it was just an idea that I needed to get out of my head.


MAG: What is your writing process like? Certain time of day, designated space, target word counts?

LHJ: At the moment (I write this mid-Covid lockdown) I don't have one. My day-job has been reduced to "spending all day in my home office working on the laptop", which means I'm absolutely not spending all my spare time doing that aswell. So my writing output has dropped significantly, bar a few short stories and some comic book scripts I've worked on. But in the 'before times', I would usually block out a couple of hours in an evening, lock myself in the office room and just write. No phone, no TV on, nothing to distract me.


MAG: What has been your most gratifying moment as a writer?

LHJ: Every time somebody sends me a message or leaves a review to say they enjoyed something I wrote, that's a gratifying moment. But the absolute best moment I think would probably when I walked into a branch of Waterstones (that's the UK's biggest book shop chain) and saw one of my books on the shelf. I'd always dreamed of that, and I couldn't quite believe it had happened. So much so that I went in again to see it the next day, because I wasn't entirely sure that I hadn't dreamed it.


MAG: Your new collection, Whistling Past the Graveyard, was recently released. Tell us about this book. How did you choose the stories you collected?



LHJ: Three (I think) of the stories were published before in other anthologies, and I chose those because they were particular favourites of mine and/or ones that had received a really nice response from readers. The rest of the stories in the book were new, and they were largely the culmination of years' worth of notes and half-thought out ideas that I hadn't fleshed out. You know those 'middle of the night' ideas that you don't currently have time to work on because you're already in the middle of a novel? A lot of them were those. Others were long-held story ideas that I'd never found the right place for. I wanted a variety, so you didn't get five werewolf stories in a row, for example, and I think (hope!) the book delivers that.


MAG: Do you have a preference between short fiction and longer fiction?

LHJ: It honestly depends on the story. For ghost stories, I always prefer short stories. I just think ghost stuff works better that way. The discomfort and otherworldly feel of a well-done ghost story is difficult to maintain for hundreds of pages addressing the same idea. Eventually it just becomes the thing that's happening and you're used to it. You get far better writers than me who can handle this well, of course, but as a general preference I just prefer them to be short. But for something like a crime story, I like a full meaty novel.


MAG: Can you tell us about what you are working on now?

LHJ: Where motivation allows with the ongoing lockdown, I am working on my second children's book, and at the same time making some edits to an occult detective novel. At the same time I'm doing finishing touches on a film-script I co-wrote, and some scripts I've written for a comic book.


MAG: You've been very open on social media about being on the autism spectrum. Do you think this has an impact on your writing in any way?

LHJ: I think it probably does, most likely in ways I don't necessarily intend or notice. I've had a couple of reviews of Whistling Past the Graveyard that commented how they liked the way it was written, that everything was very clear and well-explained, even when dealing with eldritch otherworldly stuff. I think this is probably connected to my being autistic, as I am always conscious of explaining my thoughts very clearly, because being misunderstood is a source of great discomfort for me. I'm not good at 'vamping', at just rattling stuff off out of nowhere (I can't do smalltalk for this reason). I like to plan what I am going to say, and try to find that balance between giving the required information to ensure understanding.....but not going on for so long that the eyes of the other person start to glaze over. You and I have had many conversations, Mark, I'm sure you've noticed the (often unnecessary) length of my messages. I think I often seem more 'normal' in my writing than I do in person, as I can hide behind characters who don't struggle with situations the way that I do. I have time to think and plan what they will say and do in each encounter, in a way that we're just not afforded in real life.


I want to thank Lex for agreeing to stop by and chat with me. If you are interested in buying a copy of Whistling Past the Graveyard (and you should be), you can find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Whistling-Past-Graveyard-Lex-Jones-ebook/dp/B08RY64CZJ/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=whistling+past+the+graveyard+jones&qid=1616230444&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

Women in Horror: The Year of Reading Diversely

As mentioned in an earlier post, this year I have decided to read deliberately and diversely, reading only books by women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks. I want to highlight voices that sometimes don't get enough exposure, and also strengthen my push for greater visibility and representation.

In case you didn't know, February is designated Women in Horror Month. This started as a movement around twelve years ago, I believe, and is now an international phenomenon. The whole point of WiHM is to highlight women in a field where historically they have not had the same equal footing as their male counterparts. It isn't meant to denigrate male writers or to elevate female writers above them. As I said, it is simply about equal footing.

Therefore this month I have focused my reading on horror titles by female authors. And I have to say I've read some great ones. Thought I'd talk a little about them here.

- The Hunger by Alma Katsu. This one has become very well known, in part thanks to a great blurb from King. The hype is most assuredly deserved here. This book, which fictionalizes the story of the Donner Party while adding in some supernatural menace, is a great exercise in atmosphere and tension and dread. It builds slowly, inexorably, until the hopelessness the characters feel wafts off the page like an icy wind. She created characters who were interesting and compelling, and therein lies the novel's real strength. You invest in the characters and therefore everything that happens to them has great emotional impact. I also love that she didn't overdo the supernatural element, leaving it mysterious which only ratcheted up the suspense.

- Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Perhaps best known for her more recent Mexican Gothic, I decided to start with an earlier novel by this author. What she delivered here was a book about magic, but unlike any other book about magic I have ever encountered. This story is grounded very much in the real world, which in many ways makes the magical elements easier to accept. Because everything else about the world is so recognizable and relatable. She links magic with music, which is simple and genius because I think we all at one point in our lives have encountered music that seemed to get into our souls. As with the Katsu novel, the character work here is extraordinary, people that come off the page and feel like folks you actually know.

- It, Watching by Elizabeth Massie. I've been a fan of Massie's work for a long time, since discovering her astounding novel Sineater back in the 90s. She has bold vision and a strong voice. She also has a few collections out, and as a short story lover I was looking forward to tackling some of the short fiction. The tales in this particular collection are very short, many of them flash, and they show that as an author Massie has a quirky imagination. By that I mean the kernels of her ideas are so unique, I'm not sure anyone else would have thought of them. The closing story, "The Replacement," is by far the collection's most powerful work, clever and engaging but also packed with emotion.

- The Between by Tananarive Due. Due is a powerful voice in the horror field, speaking out for diversity and inclusion and visibility. I've enjoyed a previous novel and collection by her, and I wanted to go back and read her first published novel. What she has accomplished here is impressive on its own, but knowing it was her first published novel makes it even more so. The plot is one of those high-concept ideas that could go wrong in the hands of a lesser storyteller. Due handles it expertly. Her characters are well-drawn and flawed in ways that make them feel authentic. This is one of those books where I almost can't believe it hasn't been snapped up and made into a movie or limited series television show yet.

The main point of my little reading project this year, other than simply to highlight diverse voices, is to show that you can go a whole year only reading women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks and never lack for great fiction.

The books I just mentioned by these four very talented women prove that.

2B ... Almost Not to Be

2B Cover.jpg

I'm so excited to announce the release of my newest novel, 2B. I wrote this story in the summer of last year, and it just poured out of me. I blazed through it in two months. Yes, that's all it took me to write this one. Two months.

Well, twenty years and two months.

You see, I originally had the idea around twenty years ago. I was immediately excited by the possibilities the story presented. Perhaps too excited. For whatever reason, I felt a little paralyzed when I considered actually writing it. In some ways, the idea felt too good and I think I sensed I wasn't seasoned enough yet to tackle the themes the story would present. I focused on other stories and wrote those instead.

However, I never entirely forgot about 2B. I would think about it from time to time, toy with the finally putting pen to paper on it, but for whatever reason the time never felt right. I never felt ready.

Then about ten years ago I thought I was ready. I made a start, did a chapter and a half but I knew instantly it wasn't what I wanted. Looking back, I still don't think I had developed enough as a writer to do the idea justice, and I was so in love with the idea that I was terrified of not doing it justice. So I scrapped that chapter and a half and tucked the idea back into the corner of my mind again.

In a way, I think I started to idealize the idea. Put it on a pedestal, viewing it as this perfect idea that I would only ever screw up if I tried to mold it into being. I actually think I had started to believe I would never really write it.

Then Adam Messer at Valhalla Books asked me if I would write a novel for him, to be the first solo-authored book from the new publishing company. I was honored, and I decided to give him several different ideas I had been considering to see what he responded to. Sort of on the spur of the moment, I decided to throw 2B into the mix.

Talking about the idea, describing the plot, got me excited and I fell in love with the idea all over again, and Adam's excitement fueled me.

So I sat down and two months later, the thing which had existed only in my head for two decades was finally an honest-to-God book with a beginning, middle, and end.

For me, it was worth the wait. I hope readers feel the same.

2B can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08RWBT9CK/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tkin_p1_i3

The Year of Reading Diversely

I'm not really one for resolutions, but I did decide to undergo a little project for 2021. And that is I plan to spend the entire year reading deliberately, by which I mean reading diversely. For the entire year, I will read nothing but books by people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks.

A disclaimer. This is not to trash straight white authors or to suggest straight white authors don't produce great work. They do. However, as much as I love to talk the talk of diversity in literature, I've noticed that even I don't always walk the walk as much as I'd like. I go to my "comfort food" authors, the ones I grew up with, and those do tend to be straight white males. Nothing wrong with that, but there's so much other great literature out there that I keep putting on the backburner. No more.

And to be clear, this isn't a sacrifice or a chore. I will still read the stories that sound the most interesting to me, and I've no doubt I will still read highly entertaining and thought-provoking and satisfying tales. But this year all those highly entertaining and thought-provoking and satisfying tales will be written by people of color, women, or LGBTQ+.

I started out the year with a bang, choosing Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias. Gabino is a force in the horror/noir community and someone I have admired for a while. This was my first read by him, and my admiration has only grown. Coyote Songs is powerful and gripping and intellectually stimulating and written with a lyrical prose style that was breath-taking. I can't recommend this one highly enough.



Now I'm reading The Hunger by Alma Katsu and the collection Sea, Swallow Me by Craig L. Gidney. Enjoying both so far.

While I believe strongly in seeking out diverse voices and expanding our reading beyond our comfort zones, because it enriches our reading and exposes us to great stories we didn't even know we were missing, I want to be clear: this is a challenge for myself. And not even a challenge, because that suggests it's difficult. This is my privilege to read stories by such talented people and to truly enrich my mind and my life.

I'll post semi-regularly about what I'm reading this year, and feel free to read some of these titles as well.

Coyote Songs can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.com/Coyote-Songs-Gabino-Iglesias-ebook/dp/B07JQG6X5P/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1IWC8FAKREQPS&dchild=1&keywords=coyote+songs&qid=1610298521&s=books&sprefix=coyote+songs%2Caps%2C1460&sr=1-1

2020 Year In Review

2020 has been a rough year for a lot of people, and I think most of us will be happy to see it ushered out and hope for a brighter 2021. However, with everything going on in the world, life has still had to go on. And as always, I offer up a glimpse of my writing life of the past year.

I have done a lot of writing this year and have found a new dedication and commitment. I started out the year still working on my novel The Advantaged. I was enjoying it but also struggling a bit. I also had started tinkering with a short play, as a sort of experiment, which I was calling The Dinner Party. When Covid hit in the spring, I found myself temporarily furloughed from work, and to keep my anxiety in check, I decided to pretend for that time that I was a full-time writer. I decided to put aside all other projects and start on something fresh.

I ended up writing a new novella called When it Rains. Pardon the pun, but it sort of poured out of me, and I felt great at getting something accomplished. I finished it a week before returning to work. When that was done, I returned to The Advanged with renewed energy and vigor and finished that novel as well.

From there I turned to a new novel, 2B, which happened to be an idea that I'd carried around for almost 20 years. I had even started it once about 10 years ago but abandoned it without getting very far. The time was apparently right because I tore through it, and it is a piece of writing I'm very proud of.

Inspired by finally giving life to an old idea, I next started on Triangle, a book I first envisioned back in college. I even incorporated it as a movie described in an earlier novel, Sequel. As we speak, I am deep into that novel, well past the halfway point.

I also found time to write several short stories and poems as well.

When it comes to publishing in 2020, I had one major project released. My novel 324 Abercorn, which is my take on the classic haunted house novel, is also a love letter to my home-away-from-home Savannah, GA. I was so happy to have that one out in August, and the reception it received was gratifying.



I also had several anthology appearances throughout the year. In April, The Horror Collection: Emerald Edition featured my tale, "Haunting at Stump Lake." Also in April Shallow Waters Vol. 5 with my story "The Visitors." September saw the release of two more anthologies I found myself in: Shallow Waters Vol. 6 featured two stories by me, "Anything for the Cause" and "Carmen's a Bitch", and Dead Awake included my story "Clown Craze." October, Halloween to be exact," saw the release of The Devil's Due with my deal-with-the-devil story "Genevieve and the Owl"; November One of Us, a charity anthology released as a tribute to the late reviewer Frank Michaels Errington, with my story "The Painted Panel"; and finally December ended the year with a bang with Halldark Holidays, which featured my tale "O Little Town..."

I held no live events this year, of course, but during the promotional push for 324 Abercorn I made many podcast and blog appearances.

Personally, Craig and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary and one full year in our beautiful new home. We have fared better than many this year, and I'm grateful to have a husband and best friend who is so supportive and loving.

On the horizon next year I have two novels set to release, and while I haven't decided on what project will follow Triangle I am more in love than ever with the art and craft of storytelling.

I hope everyone is staying safe and sane, and I wish better things ahead for everyone.